In the opening scene of the movie, the Roman army is in Germania, preparing for a fight with the Germanic barbarians. While they are preparing, the General Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) is talking with one of his officers, Quintis (Tomas Arana). When he was asked if the barbarians were going to fight, he answers that they'll know soon enough. A few moments later, the Roman messenger returns on his horse. However, he had been decapitated. Maximus knows at that moment that they had to fight the barbarians. He then rides to where the cavalry is waiting in order to surprise the barbarians. While he's giving his speech, the other men are setting up their ballistae and catapults. The catapults' ammunition was basically firebombs. They also create a small row of fire for their arrows. When they're ready, they start firing on the barbarians, creating chaos and ultimately beginning the battle. The Roman infantry advance towards the barbarians as the cavalry comes from another direction. The barbarians attack the infantry but are quickly surrounded because the cavalry came up from behind them. The Romans eventually win the battle, but not without casualties. After the battle, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) asks to see Maximus. Marcus tells Maximus that Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) isn't going to rule the Roman Empire. He also tells Maximus that the power will go to him and that it was up to him to make the Roman Empire a Republic again. When Commodus speaks with Marcus, he learns of his plan and kills Marcus. He then tells everyone that he died in his sleep and that there was no pain. Commodus asks Maximus for his loyalty but he refuses and walks away from him. Commodus then orders the execution of Maximus and his family. The Praetorian Guard arrests Maximus and takes him deep into the forest to kill him. Maximus asks to be killed with dignity and when the guard listens, Maximus disarms him and killed the other Praetorian Guards who were present. He then rides fiercely in an attempt to save his family, but doesn't arrive in time. After burying his wife and son, he lies next to the freshly dug graves. While he's laying there weak from injury, slave traders find him, patch him up, and take him to Zucchabar, North Africa. It is there that Maximus is purchased by Proximo (Oliver Reed), who is in the gladiator business. Initially, Maximus refuses to fight, but when he defends himself in the arena; his combat skills earn him popularity with the crowd. Maximus known only as the Spaniard to the crowd and fellow gladiators befriends Hagan (Ralf Moeller), a Germanic barbarian and Juba (Djimon Hounsou), a Numedian hunter. Juba and Maximus become quite close and speak about the afterlife. Commodus, holds "games" to honour his father, but more importantly, to gain popularity. Meanwhile, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) and a Roman senator, Gracchus (Derek Jacobi) plot to overthrow Commodus for the better of Rome. Commodus hires Proximo's gladiators to participate in the games and they all stare in wonder at the Coliseum when they arrive in Rome. The first battle that the gladiators had to participate in was a recreation of the Battle of Zama. The gladiators were the barbarians under Hannibal, and the soldiers were playing the part of Roman Legionnaires under the Roman general, Scipio Africanus. Maximus tells the gladiators to stick together so that they would have a better chance. After another bloody battle, Maximus and the gladiators are successful in beating their enemies. After the battle, Commodus goes down to the stadium to meet Maximus. He however, doesn't know that it is him as Maximus was wearing a helmet which hid his identity. When Commodus asks him to take off his helmet and tell him his name, Maximus turns his back to him. Commodus, deeply angered, he gives him a chance and tells him to do it again. Maximus takes off his helmet and says: "My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commanders of the armies to the north, and General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next." Commodus is deeply disturbed upon learning that his enemy is still alive and orders his Praetorian Guards to arms. The crowd boos Commodus and starts chanting "Live! Live!" much to Commodus' displeasure. He lets Maximus live because of the crowds approval of him and he didn't want to lose popularity with the people so he leaves the stadium. Commodus, now looking for a way to kill Maximus, sets a match between him and Rome's only undefeated gladiator, Tigris of Gaul (Sven-Ole Thorsen). The arena was also filled with tigers and their handlers instructed to go after Maximus. Although he was nearly killed a few times, Maximus is able to scrape up a win, but insulted the Emperor further by disobeying his order to kill Tigris. Although the crowd wanted Maximus to kill him, they still took his side and started calling him "Maximus the Merciful" as his popularity starts to rise, and Commodus' popularity was in decline. After the fight, Maximus' servant, Cicero (Tommy Flanagan) speaks with Maximus and tells him that his army is stationed at Ostia and are still loyal to him. Maximus seeks a meeting with Lucilla and tells her, who in turn tells Gracchus, about his plan to reunite with his army and overthrow Commodus. Commodus however, is very suspicious of his sister. When he threatens her son Lucius (Spencer Treat Clark), she admits that she was plotting and begins to cry. Because she told Commodus of the plot, Gracchus was arrested, and the Praetorian Guard were able to prepare for the attempted escape of Maximus. His plan to escape was to sneak away during a riot started by the gladiators. The Praetorian Guard had killed Hagan, some gladiators, and Proximo. Juba and some others were arrested as Maximus escaped. However, as Maximus approached Cicero, unaware of the fact that his plan had been foiled, and witnessed Cicero's murder at the hands of the Praetorian Guard who then arrested Maximus. Commodus visits Maximus and challenges him to a fight. Maximus laughs because he knows that Commodus has no chance of beating him. However, Commodus evens the odds by stabbing Maximus in the side with a dagger. He orders the guards to hide the wound with his armour and they get ready to fight. When they enter the stadium, the cheers of Maximus begin. Although he is weakened, Maximus puts up a great effort and is able to disarm Commodus. He drops his own sword out of exhaustion and begins to hallucinate about the afterlife while Commodus is asking for a sword from one of the Praetorian Guards. Quintis orders the Praetorian's to put their swords away. Commodus then tries to finish Maximus with the dagger, only to have the attack reversed and get stabbed in the throat with his own dagger. Maximus then continues to see his wife and son but is brought back to reality by Quintis who asks for instructions. Maximus tells him that Rome is to be a republic again by order of Marcus Aurelius. He then collapses and after Lucilla tells him that Lucius is safe and that he should go to his family, he dies. Gracchus and the other gladiators carry his body out of the Coliseum. That night, Juba, who is now free, goes back to the Coliseum and buries the wooden figurines of Maximus' wife and son. He then says that he'll see him again but, not yet.
By: Ryan McGregor