Darren Carver-Balsiger’s review published on Letterboxd:
Gladiator is a shallow film, with only fleeting moments where a genuine sense of human emotions can be felt. It's entertaining enough though so it's a very easy watch and that counts for a lot.
As always with Ridley Scott the film succeeds visually and his use of lighting is exceptional. When Emperor Commodus arrives in Rome the imagery distinctly reminded me of Nazi propaganda films, a no doubt intentional and ironic touch given how much fascists stole iconography from the Romans. Ridley Scott's direction isn't great though and I'd say the action scenes are uncharacteristically sloppy. The editing cuts too often to really keep track of what's happening and the choice of shots and angles often leaves things unclear. The opening battle succeeds through these techniques as it perfectly captures chaos but the smaller scale gladiator fights suffer from this approach.
The story is a complete fantasy, with history treated as an alien world and the character of Maximus essentially being a superhero. Whilst this means accuracy is compromised it does allow Gladiator to be its own beast. The standout for me is the character of Commodus who Joaquin Phoenix plays as a man who is pathetic, evil, lonely, envious, and paranoid all at once. He's a compelling villain because he's both totally unsympathetic and a little bit understandable.
Gladiator is a big film with a small brain. It only just hangs together but somehow it basically works.