After nearly two decades, Gladiator 2 is moving forward - does this mean Russell Crowe's Maximus will return and, if so, how? Ridley Scott, the Oscar-winning director of the original Gladiator (which also won Best Picture and Best Actor nods for Crowe) has hired Peter Craig (Top Gun: Maverick) to write the sequel. Scott has long plotted a return to Ancient Rome; years ago, he and Nick Cave concocted a script for Gladiator 2 that involved resurrecting Maximus and setting him against Lucius, the son of Lucilla (Connie Nielsen) from the original film. Indeed, Gladiator 2 will reportedly continue the story of the now-adult Lucius, but an appearance by the dead Maximus (and Russell Crowe) isn't out of the question.
In the original Gladiator, general Maximus Decimus Meridius survived an attempted murder and was enslaved as a gladiator when Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix) killed his father Marcus Aurelius (Richard Harris) to become Emperor of Rome. Maximus eventually fought his way to becoming a celebrated gladiator, revealed his true identity, and confronted Commodus in the Colosseum, where they slew each other. But it was a Pyrrhic victory for Maximus, who ensured the return of the Roman Republic by slaying a tyrant and was reunited with his dead wife and child in Elysium, the Greco-Roman version of Heaven.
While Maximus definitively died in the original classic, Scott has long intended to bring him back in some fashion in a sequel, although the director notes that "Gladiator was 2000, so Russell’s changed a little bit." But if Maximus does return in Gladiator 2, there are ways to make it happen:
How Russell Crowe's Maximus Can Return
The easiest way to bring Maximus back in Gladiator 2 would be through the use of flashbacks or visions. Flashbacks would be simple and could repurpose scenes from the original film as Lucius' memories of the heroic general's victories or fighting his evil uncle in the Colosseum. Visions could be utilized the same way and accomplish the same goals; CGI could be employed to de-age Crowe, but he could easily provide new dialogue and appear to guide Lucius similar to how Crowe appeared as a hologram of Jor-El to instruct Henry Cavill's Superman in Man of Steel.
However, Scott could want Maximus back in a more active role, and the director may attempt a full resurrection, whether he recasts Maximus or Crowe resumes the role. Of course, any combination of CGI and Crowe himself returning to fighting shape would be necessary to bring Maximus back to life, since he wouldn't have aged in Elysium.
As for recasting the role, Scott and Cave's shelved concept for Gladiator 2 was Maximus being resurrected in the body of a Christian soldier - likely so that a new actor would star but would be embodied with the 'spirit' of the dead general. This would have involved some form of magic and delving into Greek mythology (the Romans adopted the Greek gods and the concept of Elysium as Heaven and Maximus both references and travels to Elysium in Gladiator). Maximus could return from the afterlife under the rules that if a soul is heroic or virtuous enough, he may be resurrected up to three times.
Although that script by Scott and Cave was made for DreamWorks, which is not the studio distributing Gladiator 2, elements from it could find their way into the new version Peter Craig is writing with Scott. So if Maximus does play a role in Gladiator 2, these are the most likely devices to bring him (and likely Russell Crowe) back.
Should Gladiator 2 Leave The Original Film (And Maximus) Behind?
However, it might be a wiser move to leave Maximus (and Crowe) in the past and move forward completely. While audiences identify Gladiator with Russell Crowe, much of the impact of that film was in its emotional ending where Maximus died and was reunited with his family. Returning Maximus to life seems crass, and undoes the point of the original film. A Maximus-free Gladiator 2 (or one that limits Crowe to flashbacks) saves them the trouble of having to de-age the actor or recast the role, thereby subjecting a new Maximus to inevitable comparisons to the original.
Ridley Scott returning to Ancient Rome and picking up the story in Gladiator 2 is certainly appealing, but not if it merely retreads or harms the legacy of the original. It might be best if Maximus remains as shadows and dust and his legend simply becomes something the hero of the new film can aspire to.