This movie is just such a mess, that last year must have been a worse year for movies than I'd realized. That said, Traffic is head and shoulders in quality beyond this silly toga movie.
There are little scenes in this movie that do not relate to anything - most notably, the scene near the end where someone puts a poisonous snake in a bed. The viewers are lead to believe that a certain traitor was being killed; the set-up about Cleopatra had been made in the previous scene. But nothing happens - the character is clearly alive later.
The scenes involving war crib from the best - Rashoman and Henry V, with music stolen from Holsts' "The Planets." The gladiator scenes steal from Spartacus (with more gore, of course; Spartacus, made over 40 years ago, is a vastly superior movie despite Tony Curtis' problems with acting). The Collesium scenes use many shots from Ben Hur.
The performances are all over the place. Richard Harris and Oliver Reed (whose ruminations on death in the movie are all the more eerie since he died during the filming) are terrific. Russell Crowe is pretty good, but not great. His best scenes are during his general days early in the movie. But Juanquin Phoenix and, to a degree, Connie Nielsen feel like they are in a completely different movie.
Some of the photography and most of the CGI work (except when they attempt to animate a tiger) is quite good. The animated tigers intercut with real tigers showed the CGI is not perfect because the perspective of the animated tiger is extremely flat.
This movie is an ambitious disappointment. It is very much like Ben Hur in that it has flashes of brilliance but is undercut by a surprisingly awkward script. On the whole, I'll take Ben Hur and Spartacus for great cinema about Rome.