Review – 300: Rise of an Empire

300 one sheet

300 one sheet

This is the long time coming sequel to Zach Snyder‘s adaptation of Frank Miller‘s historical fantasy graphic novel.  A companion piece to the original 300 – A highly fictionalized (and stylized) retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae – Rise of an Empire is a companion piece, taking place before, during, and after the events of the first film.  Noam Murro directs.

God-King Xerxes, (Rodrigo Santoro) is hellbent on destroying the Greeks, you know, to prove he is a god.  While preoccupied with King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 Spartans (aka, the first film), Xerxes leaves the rest of Greece in the hands of his trusted commander Artemesia (Eva Green).  Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) rounds up the forces he can from Athens while trying to unite the rest of Greece to stand against Artemesia in the immense naval battle of Artemesium.  I’m no historian, but I think it can be safely assumed that what follows is accurate in as much that the Persians lose – spoiler alert.

This sword and sandals and abs flick follows in the artistic footsteps of it’s predecessor.  Using copious amounts of CG it creates a highly stylized look and feel as men in leather codpieces and capes kill each other violently in impressive action sequences that frequently jump from hyper slow motion to full speed and back again.

I rather enjoyed the first 300 but this one fell a bit flat.  Yes the whole concept has always been rather over the top almost to the point of farce, but at least the first film kept a straight face while doing so, evoking a “really cool cartoon” vibe.  In this film things are treated too lightly and self aware with weirdly anachronistic phrases – “you fight harder than you f***,” and actors who seem far too aware of how foolish they look going into battle with nothing but a bit of cow hide wrapped around their waists.  There also seems to be an attempt to establish more of a somewhat historically accurate mythology that just doesn’t jibe well with Xerxes wandering the dessert and dipping himself in golden water to become a ten foot tall god thing.  It’s all very disjointed and almost confusing at times – something a gore fest action film should never be.

Gorier than I remember the first film being, Rise manages to look more cartoonish as a result, which in turn makes certain aspects, like brutal depictions of wartime rape, all the more off-putting, and not in the way that horrible acts should be – scenes appear to be there as sick entertainment rather than any sort of emotional or moral weight bearers.  The whole thing is in exercise in extremes, reveling in the most brutal aspects of humanity, scarcely bothering to make a case for either side worth rooting for other than some vague battle cry of freedom and democracy.

Mixed in with everything else is also a graphic sex scene that manages to be more violent than the one in Mr. and Mrs. Smith and more disturbing than the one in Watchmen.  Despite the visuals being the highlight of this type of film, many of the scenes feel hard to see as the lens of the camera is obscured by virtual dust and blood in a rather annoying manner.  It is possible that this would not be as much of a problem in 2D but it bothered me in 3D.  The battle sequences are, unsurprisingly, beautifully done.  Choreographed like a ballet taking place on top an erupting volcano, and just as unlikely, the action sequences are certainly impressive and obviously the primary reason to see this movie.  In that sense, it’s a success, but as a whole product it’s a slightly goofy, disturbing, very well produced tech demo for the world’s most violent video game.

Mrs. Hamster did not attend this screening

My rating: Two out of five hats



300: Rise of an Empire slashes its way into 3,470 theaters March 7

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