Cinema Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

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DIR: Noam Murro • WRI: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad • Ryan Engle PRO: Mark Canton, Bernie Goldmann, Gianni Nunnari, Deborah Snyder, Zack Snyder, Thomas Tull • DOP: Simon Duggan • ED: David Brenner, Wyatt Smith • MUS: Junkie XL • DES: Patrick Tatopoulos • CAST: Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro, Eva Green, Lena Headey

Partially a prequel, partially a sequel, the bulk of 300: Rise of an Empire takes place roughly concurrently with the events of the original. While the first 300 followed the titular number of pecks and six-packs carrying pointy things as they attempted to thwart Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) army by land, here we focus on the advance of the Persian army by sea as led by Xerxes’ naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green). In lieu of a consensus from the collective Greek governments, legendary military tactician Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) assembles his own ragtag army of inexplicably muscular volunteers to meet the Persian army. With the Greek states in a panic over the invasion and Sparta refusing to join their army with the others, Themistokles tries to hold off the invasion by sea long enough for the various states to join their armies in order to push the Persians back before they lay waste to all of the Greek states.

Noam Murro‘s intentionally lurid direction as he attempts to emulate Snyder’s recognisable style from the original naturally gives everything a highly pornographic look to it that’s not merely limited to the battle scenes this time. You can expect war porn, slave-labour porn, senate debate porn, riding-horses-through-fields porn and even a little bit of porn-porn. Surprisingly though, the almost hilarious overuse of the slow-motion throughout has the odd effect of quickly desensitising you to it, making you forget it’s there and you eventually come to embrace the almost mesmeric flow it gives to the highly overwrought visuals. But let’s be clear, this is still the 300 you’ve come to expect.

There’s an amusing moment when one of Themistokles’ aides tries to demonstrate the futility of their situation by asserting that their meagre army is made up of nothing but simple farmers, poets, artists etc. all the while the background is filled with endless amounts of dead-eyed, flexing, body-builder types. Either this film is a little on the silly side or we’re meant to assume the water supply of the various Greek states is laced with steroids. There’s also something initially bewildering about seeing and hearing this collective of white, largely Anglo-American accented characters and trying to reconcile that in your brain with the fact that they’re supposed to Greek and/or Persian. Thankfully, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously so neither should we and watching it with that attitude, there’s a lot to like about the latest in the 300 franchise (oh gods, we have to refer to this as a franchise now, don’t we?)

As far as the good guys go, you’re looking at the same drill as last time; a bunch of sweaty men run around in capes and leather underwear screaming and plunging their weapons into one another and spilling their bodily fluids everywhere. There’s also at least one sex scene. It’s fine, it’s silly and it’s all in slow-motion; moving on. The real standout is in the villain camp with Eva Green’s Artemisia. Green has played villainous characters before but this is the first time she’s been given the chance to let loose like this. She never quite manages to attain true scenery-chewing status (except perhaps in her sex scene with Themistokles where they’re just screaming, choking and hitting each other in an hilariously over the top visualisation of the characters’ attempting to prove their dominance) but she gets practically all of the film’s most memorable moments; good, bad or otherwise.

She saunters around for the first half of the film acting like a disinterested, passive-aggressive school teacher that’s been left in charge of the play-school class who haven’t had their nap and are now all fighting. It’s really a delight to watch Green embrace the film for all its camp and just go with it. That’s not to say she can’t be a formidable onscreen presence when she needs to be and it’s hard not to have a grin on your face during the final battle as she spouts a one-liner and jumps into the fight wielding twin ivory swords. It certainly wouldn’t have seemed the most obvious casting choice on paper but Green can really deliver in a role like this and will hopefully get more opportunities to do so in the future.

The visuals deserve almost as much praise. The original film created a unique aesthetic that has since been referenced to the point of obsolescence. The sequel sidesteps that issue by starting in a similar vein before moving to the naval battles which feature a completely different colour palette but in the same style as the original. For all the over-use it’s since got, the original’s visual style still looks great and this update works equally well, especially in IMAX. The one drawback of IMAX is that it can often show the ‘seams’ in CGI so it’s impressive then that a film that was almost entirely shot on green-screen is as immersive and looks as convincing as it does. To that end…

The film this most reminded me of was, of all things, Gravity. Don’t look at me like that, I’ll explain. In both cases you’re presented with a visually impressive film that absolutely justifies being seen in IMAX (not so much in 3D apart from one shot where the depth really works and might cause some nausea for those uncomfortable with heights), but that’s a bit thin on the character-development front and works best as a fast-paced, rollercoaster-ride, spectacle of a film. In the case of both this and Gravity, they’re magnificent cinematic experiences when viewed in the highest, loudest definition you can find but probably don’t warrant ever watching again.

Taken for what it is then, the film is a very enjoyable romp through the fields of grunting, gore and nonsense. Additionally the self-awareness is noticeably more present than in the original given both the moments of humour and the fact that the entire plot hinges on the decisions of the only two female characters who wield all the power within their respective armies; essentially viewing the aggressive masculinity the whole film is built around for the juvenile, macho, posturing it is.

It’s also worth mentioning that if you’ve ever studied classical studies, there’s a certain bemusement to be had at seeing all these familiar battles from Greek history (complete with the often ridiculous strategies the Greek’s employed to best their numerically superior foe) being dramatized like music videos to metal songs. It’s by no means the most subtle film ever made (how can you tell they’re the bad guys? well they’re dressed uniformly in black, metal and spikes), and it’s undoubtedly a poorly, and often confusingly, structured film but it’s still refreshing to see a movie so unashamedly committed to its sense of gory silliness. Good, unclean fun.

 

Richard Drumm

16 (See IFCO for details)
102  mins

300: Rise of an Empire  is released on 7th March 2014

300: Rise of an Empire – Official Website

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pi_Ugm4sV8

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