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Mildly entertaining, but excessive in-between-quel
on June 27, 2014
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is a frustrating, but fitfully entertaining companion piece to 300. I say companion piece, because the events of this film take place before, during and after the events of 300. As such, this movie can't really stand on its own and suffers by comparison to the original, which was a much-better-told story. To put it another way, this movie is essentially the same underdog story as the first, only transplanted to the sea. A few characters from the previous film are carried over, and even those that aren't have analogues in this one. The plot revolves around Themistocles and Artemisia, who represent Athens and the Persian empire, respectively. Themistocles is a legendary warrior who reportedly killed Darius at the battle of Marathon, and Artemisia is a Greek woman who was rescued by the Persians and rose to command their navy. Their dynamic is what is supposed to drive the movie, and it largely fails to do so, with the exception of a hilarious sex scene which takes place midway through the film. These two try their best, but they are largely unable to make up for the absence of Gerard Butler here, creating a sort of charisma vacuum. Where the original was kind of tongue-in-cheek when it came to the jingoistic and ham-handed dialogue, this one takes it mostly seriously. Not only content to suck the joy out of the ridiculousness of seeing perfectly ripped men kill the mess out of each other, the early battle sequences are oppressive and borderline repulsive in the level of digital blood and gore on display, as if increasingly stylized violence could make up for the lack of investment in the story. Granted, the visuals are impressive, and an improvement over the original, but it just felt soulless and empty. There was also overuse of slow motion, and 10-15 minutes could have been shaved off if they'd shown most of the battle sequences at normal speed. The only sequence which I was truly interested in was the final one, and by then it was a little late to make me care in what was happening onscreen. As far as acting is concerned, nobody really gave a bad performance, but nobody was really that great either. Eva Green was the standout, and did a good job of chewing the scenery, but she never really let loose until she meets face-to-face with Sullivan Stapleton's Themistocles. There was also some palpable energy with her performance in the final moments of the film. Returning from the original film are Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, and Rodrigro Santoro as Xerxes. However, Lena Headey is relegated to being the "Queen of Exposition" and narrator for most of the running time, while Xerxes is largely absent due to his being occupied with the Spartans at Thermopylae. Still, they are each given a moment where they can shine. On a technical level, the film is incredible. There was an incredible level of detail, mostly augmented by CGI, but still beautiful to look at nonetheless. The battle sequences, this time involving ships, were also well-filmed and easy to follow. The only negative I can draw here is, again, the overuse of digital blood. There was a lot in the original 300, but there's fountains and geysers of it here, almost to the point of nausea. On the other side, a positive I can find was the score, which hit all the right beats and fit the movie quite well. I also liked the use of "War Pigs" in the closing credits, which was also used for one of the promotional trailers. Overall, the film more than a mite disappointing, given my affection for what preceded it. The story largely failed to be engaging, and often felt like a rehash, and it tried to compensate for that with even more outlandish and stylized violence, to the point where I felt like it glamorized it. Still, as visual spectacle, it was second to none. Would I recommend it? No. There simply isn't enough going on to warrant spending your money, and when it finally kicks into gear in the final act, it's a little too late.