Seize Your Glory
A friend of mine recently summarised Zack Snyder’s legacy as essentially a series of two hour long music videos; all style, no substance. While I believe there’s a little more to it than that, I can’t deny that Snyder has paved the way for copycat filmmakers to take these slick stylistic elements and base an entire movie around a collection of “cool shots.” For all its faults, 300 was somewhat unique. It built on the accomplishments of Sin City and at the time gave the audience a baffling new presentation of the common action film. Subsequently, it was a huge success. Revered and parodied, for better or worse, it’s earned its place in cinematic history (for the time being). One thing 300 did not need was a follow up. Yet eight years later, here we are.
While the story struggles to find where the narrative begins (at the end of 300, before that, afterward, who knows?) we’re treated to a rather tedious opening monologue from Queen Gorgo [Headey] about why the Persian army invaded in the first place. But there must have been a distinct fear that all this retreading of familiar ground and boring dialogue may lose the audience, so they depict Athens burning to the ground. No, still not enough. I know! Let’s have a bare-breasted woman struggling in the grip of two men. She’s not being raped or killed, just struggling.. in slow motion. There we go. And so 300: Rise Of An Empire opens with large flopping tits. In IMAX. Sets the scene for the following hour and a half really. But I digress. After a botched introduction, we are presented with the origins of the god king Xerxes [Santoro] and his most powerful commander, Artemisia [Green]. At the same time, we’re shown a simple Greek soldier who became an Athenian hero, Themistocles [Stapleton]. With the more interesting confrontation (Xerxes/Leonidas) already spoken for, the writers turned to these second pairings for another combative excursion ..BUT THIS TIME ON BOATS! There’s no plot here to speak of, Artemisia’s fleet tries to get a foothold on Greek shores but Themistocles’ meagre forces manage to utilise superior tactics to fend them off. Rinse and repeat.
Taking place before, after and during the events in 300, this movie really doesn’t feel like a sequel, prequel or remake. You can rightfully bemoan reboots and sequels all you like but at least the audience has some idea what they’re getting themselves in for. Rather than forging its own path, this movie essentially takes the formula of its predecessor but shifts the action to boats.
All too often we’re called back to the events of 300. “I came to see Leonidas.” “He is consulting with the oracles now.. you remember? That bit with the trippy underwater dance thing? Yeah, that’s happening right now.” “Do we have anything interesting to see while I wait?” “There’s a bunch of burly dudes punching each other in the face over there.” “Nah, I’m good.” Not to mention all the cameos. To expand on Artemisia’s story, she’s found and saved by the messenger from the first film – the guy kicked into the pit. No need for that whatsoever but it makes the audience think of the first film and everyone involved hopes that a modicum of that release will somehow rub off on this one by simply showing us archival footage. My favourite reflective moment was when they try to reminisce about 300’s most iconic moment (THIS IS SPARTA). The Queen explains to Themistocles that a Persian messenger came to seek terms but that he was rude and soon he learned that.. this is Sparta. The same absurd tactic is the reason I couldn’t get into Agents Of SHIELD; always banging on about ‘New York.’
Despite all the fawning over the original, there’s not a great deal of consistency here. Queen Gorgo silently weeps over her husband’s funeral pyre and resents Themistocles for entertaining the notion of pursuing the Persians. I don’t get that. The first film implied this was not only a woman of action and conviction but a Spartan: a race of individuals who live and breathe for war. The line, “Have we not given enough” seems hideously out of character. But then this is a film who’s casting calls are based solely on looks and the ability to shout and grunt while displaying finely-toned abs rather than.. you know.. act. The only person who somehow manages to get any acting done (outside of simply saying the line and hoping to God the words come out in the right order) is Eva Green but I’ll expand more on her performance later. With all these petty performances and little story for them to build on, the entire effort feels monumentally flat, leaving only the cinematography and computer generated effects to shine. There’s no denying the film is visually lavish; hyper reality history with impossible locations, sets and costumes but still they make for interesting production design. The fights are pretty well choreographed (providing you like that slow-motion emphasis on every single hit) and steer clear of any battle fatigue one may experience. Having said that, I’m kinda sick of the CGI blood spurts. I have no qualms with the quantity or graphic nature of globules of claret splashing everywhere but I cannot abide how fake they look. There is, however, one element that not only improves on the original, it’s actually very good by its own merit. I confess, I don’t care for the works of Tyler Bates, I find his music touches on some really interesting themes but takes the easy, familiar route rather than producing something noteworthy and truly memorable. Tom Holkenborg (I have no intention of calling him Junkie XL) on the other hand, is a more than capable individual who has been working in the background with the likes of Hans Zimmer and Harry Gregson-Williams and his score is genuinely enjoyable. The character themes are distinct, the tension builds beautifully, the chaos and discordance resonate with a beautiful harmony and the entire culmination is one of the only pleasing factors of this entire movie.
300: Rise Of An Empire is a one trick pony that plays to its sole strength as often and as solidly as possible. Considering the entire film is achieved in a green-screen environment, it’s undeniably very impressive. However, once you take that element out of the equation, you’re left with a weak and feeble release. The story is abysmal, the acting is ropey, the direction is basic mimicry and the editing is adequate at best. For a one hundred and ten million dollar production, that’s simply unacceptable. Sure the film will do well and it’ll happily make all its money back but I pray this franchise is dead and buried now. Let’s not revisit this same style on various time periods throughout history, let’s not try and bring it to a modern era setting, let’s just.. just stop now. Ok? The gimmick is pretty good but until you get a good story to selectively inject it into, why not set it to one side for the time being. Thanks.
7th March 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
After being branded with overtones of latent homosexuality by deriders, critics and anyone with eyes, the sequel to 300 felt the need to establish itself as super manly, whilst including super manly hetero sex. This led to what can only be described as one of the worst sex scenes I’ve witnessed in big budget cinema in a long, long time. I hate sex scenes in films. I find them unnecessary, unrealistic, brief and pointless. This was an entirely different animal. What starts off a simple parley quickly evolves into a violent sexual ordeal with lots of grunting, shoving and.. most distressingly.. choking. I mean, not actual choking, they just grab each other’s necks a lot – something that I am convinced has originated in pornography. A few of the teenagers in the screening audience got extremely involved in the scene, leaning forward in the row in front of me and as the segment was reaching its climax, one of them couldn’t contain himself any longer and shouted (actually shouted) “Yeah! Choke the bitch!” I’m far from a prude and I’m not about to start harping on about the responsibilities of cinema but fuck me, that’s a bit of a shitty reaction. There’s a lot wrong with this movie but almost all of it could be excused or at least tolerated if it weren’t for this dismal display.
I like Eva Green. Underneath her raspy voice and constantly smoky eyes is an actress who is actually quite capable. I especially liked her in Kingdom Of Heaven and Franklyn but here she somehow manages to give both the best and worst performance of the movie. Ranging from enigmatic and powerful to campy and ridiculous. The film clearly benefits from her presence and in the hands of a lesser actor the final result would have been a lot worse and yet it somehow is.. in her own hands. Strange really.
“Sit on your golden throne and watch the battle from the safety I provide you”
In A Few Words:
“Pallid and unimpressive fare that mimics everything from 300 bar the charm. So very not worth it”