Monday, March 10, 2014

Stylish Sprays And . . . What The Hell, 300: Rise Of An Empire Is Just Pointless!

The Good: The film looks good/stylish stunts, Most of the acting is adequate
The Bad: Light on character development, Dull plot
The Basics: In one of the least-necessary sequels of all time, 300: Rise Of An Empire pitches another force of Greeks against the Persian naval forces.

As winter inevitably turns to spring, the first hints of what Summer Blockbuster Season might be like are inevitably teased. This year, the mindless action movies that tend to dominate Summer Blockbuster Season are introduced with the March release of 300: Rise Of An Empire. 300: Rise Of An Empire is the first major sequel of the year to be released and if it is any indication, 2014 will be a poor year for cinematic sequels.

300: Rise Of An Empire is a sequel to the stylish historical fiction graphic novel-turned blockbuster film 300 (reviewed here!) and it is an especially lackluster sequel. Like the worst of dramatic war sequels, 300: Rise Of An Empire starts with a heavy burden; most of the significant characters in 300 cannot return, so the slate is mostly clean for the viewer. That leaves an immense pressure on the writers and director to create new iconic characters and situations while preserving the world of the original film. 300: Rise Of An Empire merely recycles and reformats the familiar, iconic elements of 300 and the result is more transparent than it is audacious. One almost suspects that the moment in 300: Rise Of An Empire where the villainous Artemisia throws a general giving her a bad report, weighted, into the sea comes at virtually the same time in the film as shoving the ambassador into the “bottomless pit” in 300 happened.

So, amid a mildly reframed plot and populated with new characters (though it makes sure to use archive footage that includes Gerard Butler’s Leonidas), 300: Rise Of An Empire once again pits Greeks against Persians in a bloody, stylishly-shot, color-muted, historical fiction war film that is overly familiar. Themistokles crying out that the Persians fear Greek freedom is not exactly as catchy as Gerard Butler’s “We are Spartan!” and such is the lament of 300: Rise Of An Empire: the entire film has a “been there, done that” feel to it.

The Persian King Darius leads ships to Marathon. There, the Athenian general, Themistokles defends Athens and, in a crucial moment, Themistokles manages to cut Darius down with an arrow. Darius turns the empire over to his son, Xerxes and the naval general, Artemisia, tells Xerxes he will be a god-king. Manipulated by Artemisia, Xerxes brings the Persian fleet to bear on Greece. Themistokles works to unite the Greeks against Artemisia’s navy, but finds the Spartans unwilling to join his forces. Routing out a Greek spy, Artemisia prepares to attack the southern portion of Greece.

With a woefully inadequate naval force of Greek ships meeting Artemisia’s thousand ships in the water, the Greek cause is once more imperiled. While Themistokles leads a successful campaign on the first day of naval battle (Artemisia’s fleet loses almost a tenth of its ships), Artemisia learns who her adversary is and demands her generals bring her a naval victory. On the second day of battle, Artemisia’s ambitious general sails into a trap and the Athenians are able to leap off the cliffs onto the boats to bloody the Persians. After meeting Artemisia, Themistokles’s ships are once more besieged by the Persians. Firebombed and hit with arrows and amphibious forces, the Greek forces struggle to survive the relentless attack by Artemisia’s forces. As Persian forces sweep through Athens, Artemisia and Themistokles are put on a collision course with one another.

300: Rise Of An Empire is more about style than substance, but following on the heels of similar films like Immortals (reviewed here!) and the alternate-history Watchmen (reviewed here!), the latest blood-splash war flick seems particularly vacuous. After several war scenes, there is a pointless and rapey sex scene between the hero and villain that serves only to undermine the character of Artemisia. Before trying obvious seduction and violent sex, Artemisia is cool and brutally efficient. While she ends up on top in that scene, she loses both her mystique and the sense that there is something special and impressive about her as a tactician.

So, the movie degenerates quickly out of the thin dialogue, recapping the prior film and attempts at character-building and turns into the predicted bloodbath one expects of a sequel to 300. Having not seen 300 in years, it says something bad about 300: Rise Of An Empire that I recall several of the shots from 300 in its sequel. The dramatic jumping shots, filmed from a low angle, in slow motion, the blades speeding up until the moment they draw blood and then followed by super-slow arterial spray; director Noam Murro seems unwilling to contribute anything truly original to 300: Rise Of An Empire.

The truly bright spot in 300: Rise Of An Empire is Eva Green as the Greek-turned-Persian General Artemisia. Despite the character flaws with Artemisia, Green is solid and menacing in the role. She has the screen presence that the white bread Sullivan Stapleton lacks as Themistokles. Green has presence and posture to make Artemisia draw the eye, so much so that it feels cheap when her character spreads the slit in her skirt to start enticing Themistokles. Green is credible and powerful as Artemisia, though.

Very late in 300: Rise Of An Empire, the film ties tightly into 300, bringing back the villainous hunchback and a handful of others from 300 to lead to a stirring end. There is, on the wind, the threat of another sequel, one which would finally bury the villain of the series. But if 300: Rise Of An Empire taught us anything it is that what happens to Xerxes is somewhat immaterial; the 300 film brand is already tired and trite.

For other fantasy war films, please check out my reviews of:
Hammer Of The Gods
Alice In Wonderland
I, Frankenstein


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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