Villain Spotlight: Commodus Aurelius
Greetings my power-hungry evil-doers, today I bring you a villain spotlight from a film that really set off Joaquin Phoenix’s career. I am personally a big fan of Phoenix, and have to give the man extra props for being a fellow vegan, but even though the actor has gone on to play some very different and unique roles in subsequent films I think his portrayal of Commodus will forever be one of the best of his entire life. Commodus is truly one of the most scheming, manipulative, cruel, and vicious villains of all time, setting the bar higher than any Lannister could ever surpass. Continue forward for why Lilith thinks Commodus in the film The Gladiator is truly one of the most epic villain roles of all time.
You might all recall that the film starts off with General Maximus winning a battle against a nation of Barbarians for his emperor Aurelius. The emperor, played by the endearing Richard Harris, is very fond of Maximus and explains to him that when he dies he wishes the strong general to take his spot on the throne, as opposed to his spoiled son Commodus. And this is about when we first meet Commodus, at the end of the first battle, as he rides up in a carriage like spoiled royalty with his more moral sister. Commodus acts surprised that he missed the battle and I swear I think King Joeffrey from Game of Thrones was based on his character. He is a pathetic pouty adult wishing for more affection from his father while he wants to reap in the wonders of being rich royalty, never getting his hands dirty.
When Emperor Marcus Aurelius first reveals his intentions to his son to hand off his throne to someone other than him the true evil of Commodus rears its ugly head. Commodus first guilts his father in to believing that it is his fault that Commodus has not grown up to be the strong leader he had hoped for. And just when you think there might be a touching moment between this father-son duo that might result in Commodus growing as a person, Commodus transforms a loving embrace in to a death grip. The monster strangles his father to death and then claims that he died naturally, and pretends that the conversation about him not taking the throne never happened.
Next up Commodus has to tie up some lose ends, and so he brings Maximus to his room and asks him to swear his allegiance to him as the new king. Maximus refuses and sets a revenge plot by Commodus in to motion. First the new treacherous commander arranges for Maximus’ execution, but just to bring the point home even more he also sends soldiers back to Maximus’ family home in Spain where he murders his son and wife. What a dick.
Lucky for us we see Maximus escape his execution but after he collapses in angst upon having found his family’s dead bodies. He ends up sold in to slavery but being brought to Rome as a gladiator sets up the perfect scenario for Maximus to try to avenge his family by killing Commodus. And it is during this part of the movie that a part of Commodus more vile than we could ever imagine shows itself. Commodus begins to verbally and physically abuse his sister, and manipulates her sexually and with threats towards her son who he could easily kill. And like a true villain Commodus also proves himself a coward. Trying to restore his nation’s faith in him he challenges Maximus to a duel, hoping that by defeating the gladiator people would again respect his rule. To help ensure his victory over the skilled Maximus he stabs the man in the stomach before dragging him to the colleseum. But slay for Commodus that is not enough, and Maximus still defeats him in battle, leading to the death of one of the most immoral and sick villains of all time.
I am glad that Phoenix was not type-cast after this role, but I think his portrayal Commodus is one that will set standards for evil emperors and rulers for decades to come.
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