Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

300 : Rise of an Empire
Directed by: Noam Murro.
Written by: Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller.
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton (Themistocles), Eva Green (Artemisia), Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo), Hans Matheson (Aeskylos), Callan Mulvey (Scyllias), David Wenham (Dilios), Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes), Jack O'Connell (Calisto), Andrew Tiernan (Ephialtes), Igal Naor (King Darius), Andrew Pleavin (Daxos), Peter Mensah (Persian Emissary), Ben Turner (General Artaphernes), Ashraf Barhom (General Bandari), Christopher Sciueref (General Kashani).

I know it was a huge hit back in 2006, but I never much cared for Zack Snyder’s 300. I thought the film to a xenophobic, right wing fantasy of military might at the height of the Iraq war – but worse than that, I thought it was rather dull and boring. I don’t necessarily need a movie to align with my political beliefs to enjoy it – but I need it to do something interesting. But once the battles in the film started, they were basically the same thing over and over again for two hours. There was lots of slow motion bloodletting and decapitations, and Gerald Butler screaming, and then it was over. I know the film has many fans, but overall, I just find the movie dull.

The sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire (which isn’t really a sequel, as it has stuff that happens before, during and after the original) is more of the same – this time made worse by the fact that I missed in theaters, and had to watch it on Blu Ray at home. Normally, this isn’t a big deal, but the fact that the film was made for 3-D is painfully clear throughout the movie – with lots of things flying directly at the screen, and the torrents of blood looking even more fake than in the first film. Perhaps they looked cool in the theaters. On Blu-Ray, it looked rather silly.

There is a saving grace for the film though in the form of Eva Green, who is brilliantly demented as Artemisia, a Greek woman who has switched sides and is fighting for the Persians – and leads Xerxes’ navy against the Greeks. It is a brilliant, demented performance without a trace of subtlety in it – and that’s just the way it should be. She devours the scenery and everything else around her. She’s at the heart of one of the most ridiculous and violent sex scenes you’ll ever see, and makes it work. She’s unapologetically sexual and fierce, strong, violent and more than a little insane. When she’s onscreen the film is far more interesting than anything else in either of the two films. It’s almost worth seeing for her alone.

Too bad the rest of the movie is so bad then. Say what you will about Gerald Butler’s acting range – he was pretty darn good at doing what 300 asked him to do –which is basically to be buff, look angry and scream a lot. This time the main character, Themistocles, is played by Sullivan Stapleton, and he makes the dullest leading man in this sort of movie since Sam Worthington (in anything, take your pick). He isn’t supposed to be insane like Artemisia or as angry and hell bent on war like Butler – he is a more measured character, who plans the battles out that he should have no chance in winning, but does anyway. Unfortunately, this isn’t very exciting to watch. The last film was all land battles – hand to hand combat at the Hot Gates, but this film is mainly sea battles between the Persians advanced, intimidating fleet, and the Greeks ragtag group of farmers on a much smaller number of boats. They don’t have the Spartans on their side this time, so they can depend on their insane strength.

Much like the first film, 300: Rise of an Empire is basically the same battle scenes over and over again, until the film is over. Snyder has moved onto bigger projects – last year’s Man of Steel and next year’s Batman vs. Superman (or whatever it’s called now) – so Noam Murro takes up the directing this time. His only other film was comedy-drama Smart People (2007) – with Dennis Quaid and Ellen Page – so I have no idea why they decided to hire him, but he does a decent job with the film. It looks and fells just like the first film, so if you enjoyed that film, I have a hard time thinking you won’t enjoy this one.

For me, even with the added jolt of Green, it’s not nearly enough. I admire the fact that the film went with a more ambitious storyline this time around, and didn’t shunt all the women off into the background (just all of them except Green – as even though she’s billed highly, Lena Headley isn’t really given much to do). But there are only so many times I can watch people be decapitated before I start to wonder what else this series has to offer. So far, it’s not much.

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