Over two decades after the release of the original Gladiator film, Ridley Scott is back with Gladiator II, set in the same universe. The first-look images shared by Vanity Fair give us a glimpse into the star-studded cast, including Paul Mescal, Pedro Pascal, Denzel Washington, Connie Nielsen, Joseph Quinn, Fred Hechinger, and more.

Paul Mescal takes on the role of Lucius Verus, the nephew of the former Emperor Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix in the first film. Lucius is sent away to Numidia, where he starts his own family and harbors resentment towards his mother and the empire. When the Roman army, led by Pedro Pascal’s general Marcus Acacius, attacks, Lucius is captured and brought back to Rome as a gladiator.

The corrupt and cruel Rome is now ruled by two “sadistic” co-Emperors, played by Fred Hechinger and Joseph Quinn, while Lucius discovers that his mother is involved with the general who destroyed his life in Numidia. The film also stars Denzel Washington as Macrinus, a former slave-turned-arms dealer, Derek Jacobi as Senator Gracchus, Tim McInnerny as Thraex, and Alexander Karim as Ravi, among others.

Pedro Pascal’s character, General Acacius, trained under Russell Crowe’s Maximus in the original Gladiator film. Pascal describes Acacius as a fighter who learned from the best but has his own unique identity. The film explores themes of survival, power, and greed, both in the arena and in the political struggles outside.

Paul Mescal, known for his role in Normal People, was chosen by Ridley Scott for the role of Lucius. Mescal’s physicality and performance in a Zoom meeting convinced Scott that he was the perfect fit for the character. Russell Crowe’s character, Maximus, will remain a presence in the sequel, despite his demise in the first film.

Crowe himself has expressed mixed feelings about the Gladiator sequel, acknowledging the doors the original film opened for him while also feeling a sense of discomfort about not being involved in the new project. Gladiator II is set to hit theaters on Nov. 22, promising an exciting continuation of the epic story set in ancient Rome.