Review: Spartacus – War of the Damned / Cert: 18 / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Liam McIntyre, Manu Bennett, Dustin Clare, Simon Merrells, Todd Lasance, Anna Hutchison / Release Date: April 29th
So it's official. This, the third season of Spartacus, is also the last. No more lethal back-swings. No more cries of “raaagh!” No more explosions of CGI gore from gaping throat-wounds. No more orgies. No more baths. Devastating news for suppliers of wigs and merkins and, of course, for us, the fans. Still, at least we have the box set to enjoy before it's time to say ave atque vale.
And it's a beauty. There were a couple of problems with Spartacus: Vengeance. Away from the ludus, the gladiators lost much of their fun factor, and a degree of sameyness crept into the scenes of skulking rebels and backstabbing Romans. This time round, most of this has been fixed. For starters, the events and backdrops are more varied in scope, with Spartacus (McIntyre, finally finding his feet after taking over from the late Andy Whitfield) leading strategic ninja-style attacks, then hatching a plan to seize a seaside town which he thinks will be a cosy place to hole up for the winter. If the purse strings were tight on this third season, it certainly doesn't show, because it's a sumptuous spectacle.
Next, a decent baddie has at last been found to fill Batiatus' wine-stained sandals. Yes, has Spartacus finally met his match in the wealthy and brilliant Crassus (Merrells), who has trained his body and his mind for just such a call to arms? Especially as Crassus has teamed up with cash-strapped but posh Julius Caesar (an impressively beefy and sneering Lasance from Home and Away), who slips incognito into the rebel ranks to foment trouble.
The revolting slaves are much more lively too. They throw wild parties, colourful characters such as Saxa (Hollman) – a foul-mouthed Heidi Klum look- and soundalike – are brought front and centre, and Spartacus has trouble with the hard-liners in their midst who are all for the wholesale slaughter of their Roman captives. One such prisoner is Lita, sweetly played by Anna Hutchison of Cabin in the Woods fame. Luckily (but unsurprisingly), Spartacus takes a keen personal interest in her...
Otherwise, the show sticks to what it does best – violence, full frontal nudity and portentous dialogue – but turns the dial up to XI. It must have by far the largest body count of any series in recent memory (there are three decapitations in the first episode alone). And by the way, anyone for crucifixion? Because yes, there's one of those too. Combine that with the acres of skin on display, and you have a work of stunning sensuality. This final season doesn't quite tie up all of the loose ends of the Spartacus story, but it bows out in dazzling style.