Paul Mescal Battles Pedro Pascal & a Rhino in 'Gladiator II' Trailer

Clocking in at over three minutes, the trailer for Gladiator II has given us plenty to think about, from Paul Mescal’s ripped physique to Joseph Quinn’s full-face of makeup to Denzel Washington refusing to do any kind of regionally appropriate accent and yet still stealing the show. The first look at the Ridley Scott-directed film—which will arrive 24 years after the original Russell Crowe-starring Gladiator—is a multi-sensory buffet of masculinity (just what we need, right?)

Gladiator II is a sequel, not a reboot, taking place roughly 15 years after the first film’s events. In that film, Crowe played hero Maximus, a former Roman general who was forced into slavery after his family was murdered by Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s evil failson, Commodus, played by a supremely creepy Joaquin Phoenix. Maximus becomes a wildly popular gladiator, eventually getting revenge on Commodus. There’s an important side plot about Commodus’s sister, Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) and her 12-year-old son, Lucius—Paul Mescal’s role in Gladiator II is Lucius, now grown up.

In the Gladiator II trailer, we learn that Lucius has befallen a similar fate to Maximus, having become estranged from his family and forced into gladiatorial servitude. Denzel Washington serves as his guide through this murky world as Lucius, too, seeks revenge, this time on “the entire Roman army.” Mescal, who was an avid rugby player before his breakout performance in Hulu’s Normal People, trained extensively for the role, undergoing a strict regime of diet and exercise to put on muscle to believably inhabit the role of a winning fighter (and to entice audiences all the same). “I just wanted to be big and strong and look like somebody who can cause a bit of damage when shit hits the fan,” Mescal told Vanity Fair, adding, “I think also, sometimes, one could, in striving for that perfect look, end up looking more like an underwear model than a warrior.”

Inspired by Those About to Die, a 1958 novel by Daniel P. Mannix novel, Gladiator was a huge hit, winning Best Picture at the Oscars that year and scoring the Best Actor Academy Award for Crowe. (It also helped launch a decade of arena-inspired fashion, and it feels like we’re just a few months away from gladiator sandals popping up on Depop). The returning cast includes Nielsen as Lucilla and Derek Jacobi as Senator Gracchus. Pedro Pascal plays cutthroat Roman general Marcus Acacius, and Joseph Quinn and Fred Hechinger play young co-emperors Geta and Caracalla.

Gladiator II hits theaters on November 22, the same day as Wicked: Part One, setting up a potential Barbenheimer situation at the box office. A double feature is never a bad idea, especially when two blockbusters are on offer.

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