×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Spartacus: War of the Damned

At the beginning, "Spartacus" felt like a weak "300" knockoff -- Starz's attempt to exploit a presold name, albeit one associated with a classic 1960 movie -- to peddle buckets of blood and bare flesh, two surefire ingredients to attract males to pay cable. Yet as the program comes to an end with this final season, subtitled "War of the Damned," it's hard not to admire its improved quality and heightened sense of purpose. Heck, it even has educational value, causing viewers to wonder things like, "Wow, does a human head really contain that much blood?"

With:
With: Liam McIntyre, Manu Bennett, Dustin Clare, Dan Feuerriegel, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Pana Hema-Taylor, Ellen Hollman, Simon Merrells, Ditch Davey, Todd Lasance, Christian Antidormi, Anna Hutchison, Jenna Lind.

At the beginning, “Spartacus” felt like a weak “300” knockoff — Starz’s attempt to exploit a presold name, albeit one associated with a classic 1960 movie — to peddle buckets of blood and bare flesh, two surefire ingredients to attract males to pay cable. Yet as the program comes to an end with this final season, subtitled “War of the Damned,” it’s hard not to admire its improved quality and heightened sense of purpose. Heck, it even has educational value, causing viewers to wonder things like, “Wow, does a human head really contain that much blood?”

Spartacus” the series has survived its own set of ordeals, including the illness and death of original star Andy Whitfield, who was subsequently replaced by Liam McIntyre. Yet this last season feels more assured than previous ones in part because it has reached the point of resolution — building toward an epic showdown between Spartacus’ bloodthirsty band of escaped slaves and the legions under calculating Roman commander Marcus Crassus (Simon Merrells), who seeks to secure power for himself and his heir by crushing the uprising.

At times, the Romans have often felt like window dressing, there mostly to be sliced into smaller parts (violence) and illustrate the decadence of the empire (sex). Now, Merrell’s Crassus (if no Laurence Olivier) is a splendid addition, providing Spartacus with a worthy adversary, and setting up an elaborate chess match that begins to unfold over the first two hours of this 10-episode march toward war.

The success of “Spartacus” also has provided the show with something it initially lacked — namely, a true sense of scale, using CGI to create the illusion of massive armies, while still reveling in artful slow-motion blood splatters and demonstrations that sexual debauchery was popular long before movies, TV or the Internet were around.

Admittedly, “Spartacus” has painted itself into something of a corner in terms of expectations, creating an inevitable can-you-top-this element in terms of sheer gore. Even in this stylized, confined-to-pay-cable fashion, that’s perhaps not the most helpful image for the industry right now.

As for Starz, the program clearly served its purpose, boosting the channel’s then-nascent original programming efforts and guiding them in an escapist direction, before the network began trying to expand its profile with more character-driven fare.

Created by Steven S. DeKnight, “Spartacus” certainly has provided critics (OK, this one) with an easy punch line, especially in the early going. Like its namesake, though, the series will meet its end unbowed, on its own terms. And hey, as Spartacus himself could attest (if the series’ final chapter bears any resemblance to the movie, anyway), we all have our crosses to bear.

Spartacus: War of the Damned

Starz, Fri. Jan. 25, 10 p.m.

Production: Filmed in New Zealand by DeKnight Prods. and Tapert Donen Raimi. Executive producers, Steven S. DeKnight, Rob Tapert, Joshua Donen, Sam Raimi; producers, Chloe Smith, Rick Jacobson, Brent Fletcher, Jed Whedon; director, Mark Beesley; writer, DeKnight.

Crew: Camera, Dave Garbett; production designer, Iain Aitken; editor, Tom Eagles; music, Joseph LoDuca; executive visual effects supervisor, Charlie McClellan. 60 MIN.

Cast: With: Liam McIntyre, Manu Bennett, Dustin Clare, Dan Feuerriegel, Cynthia Addai-Robinson, Pana Hema-Taylor, Ellen Hollman, Simon Merrells, Ditch Davey, Todd Lasance, Christian Antidormi, Anna Hutchison, Jenna Lind.

More TV

  • Pretty Little Liars the Perfectionists Review

    TV Review: 'Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists' on Freeform

    Nearly every scene in “Pretty Little Liars: The Perfectionists” tells one specific story: This is a series that very much wants to be “Pretty Little Liars: All Grown Up.” It’s an interesting choice for a spinoff, considering the fact that the final season and a half of “Pretty Little Liars” featured a five-year time jump [...]

  • iPhone 7 Tim Cook

    Apple’s Video Streaming Plans: Key Open Questions

    Apple is expected to give a glimpse of its upcoming video streaming service at an event on its Cupertino, California-based campus on March 25. Reports over the past year have trickled out hinting at what an Apple streaming service could look like, but the company itself has been tight-lipped on divulging details. The streaming product [...]

  • HBO logo

    Amid Exits at HBO, Global Distribution Head Bernadette Aulestia Resigns

    HBO’s head of global distribution Bernadette Aulestia is resigning after 22 years, the premium cabler has confirmed to Variety, though she will remain at the company long enough to help her team through the transition. Aulestia’s exit follows several others as parent entity AT&T reorganizes WarnerMedia, which is made up of Turner, HBO and Warner [...]

  • Miranda Richardson

    'Game of Thrones' Prequel Pilot Adds Miranda Richardson to Cast

    HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ prequel pilot has cast Miranda Richardson as a series regular in the hotly anticipated yet-untitled series. Richardson, a BAFTA- and Golden Globes-winning actor, joins Naomi Watts, Josh Whitehouse, Naomi Ackle, Denise Gough and others on the series created by Jane Goldman and “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin. Goldman will [...]

  • Ryan Hansen

    Ryan Hansen to Play Adam in Fox ‘Adam & Eve’ Pilot

    “Veronica Mars” star Ryan Hansen has been cast to play the Adam to Odette Annable’s Eve in the upcoming “Adam & Eve” pilot in the works at Fox, Variety has learned. The singe-camera comedy is based on the French-Canadian format of the same name. The series follows one couple at three stages of their relationship — [...]

  • Anders Holm and Tika Sumpter

    Anders Holm and Tika Sumpter Cast in 'Black-ish' Spinoff Episode

    Tika Sumpter and Anders Holm are joining the growing “Black-ish” world, Variety has learned. They will both star in the upcoming prequel episode, which could reportedly launch into its own spinoff series. As earlier reported, ABC is in development on the prequel that would focus on Tracee Ellis Ross’ character Rainbow. More Reviews TV Review: 'Pretty Little [...]

  • Writers Guild Blasts CAA, WME for

    Writers Guild Blasts Talent Agencies CAA, WME for 'Soaring' Profits

    The Writers Guild of America has singled out Hollywood’s largest talent agencies, William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency, for allegedly soaring profits. The WGA, in an acrimonious negotiation over proposed new rules about how agencies represent writers, issued a report called “agencies for sale” on Monday morning — a few hours before a fifth [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content