300: Rise of an Empire
Directed by Noam Murro
Conquered 7 March 2014
Eva Green steals the show and represents everything that's right with 300: Rise of an Empire. Problem is, there's so much wrong with it, too.
The most interesting things about 300: Rise of an Empire aren't particularly flattering. For one, it's based on Frank Miller's graphic novel Xerxes. But there's no point in running out to the comic book shop right now, kids. Miller hasn't even finished the book yet. For that matter, it's odd the title of the source material is Xerxes, given the title character plays a rather small role in this sequel to 300. Rise of an Empire quickly fills in Xerxes' back story, but aside from that he's more golden figurehead than god king. Maybe that'll change by the time Miller's book hits the shelves, but the movie is what it is now.
Then there's the movie's director, Noam Murro. The Israeli director's only other feature film is the romantic comedy Smart People. In fairness, he's also done many high-profile, savvy commercials - and Ridley Scott got his start in a similar fashion. But maybe that lack of big action experience is why this movie's biggest problem is a severe lack of energy; a disjointed storytelling sensibility that bounces around 10 years of Greek history certainly doesn't help matters.
The unanswered question is this: What's the rush with getting this sequel made? It's been 8 years since 300 thrust Zack Snyder to the top ranks of high profile, although not necessarily reliable, fantasy film directors. While he's currently tied up with the universe's most famous Kryptonian, he did produce this sequel and co-wrote the screenplay with his 300 collaborator Kurt Johnstad. After waiting 8 years, why not wait a little while longer for this one to fully bake?
Quote Me on That
One of the charms of 300 was its gung-ho sense of over-the-top masculinity, cushioned by some quotable lines reminiscent of Monty Python. Unfortunately, this sequel comes up short on wit and tries to compensate with the gushing of blood - in slow motion! And in 3D!
The lack of quotability is a shame. After all, this one focuses on the heroics of none other than Themistokles, a man so influential through the ages, he's even quoted in Lawrence of Arabia ("I cannot fiddle, but I can make a great state from a small city.")
Here, Themistokles, as portrayed by Sullivan Stapleton (Gangster Squad), utters lines like, "This is a democracy, not a street fight." At least he's redeemed a bit by the more inspirational power of, "We choose to die on our feet rather than live on our knees."
Maybe Big T was simply having a bad day in those years Before Christ. After all, he's still wracked by guilt for killing King Darius (Igal Naor, Munich) and not his son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, The Last Stand), during the Battle of Marathon. That was 10 years prior to the events at hand, since then Xerxes has transformed into a god king and Leonidas has gathered together his rag-tag band of 300 Spartans. With Leonidas meeting his fate against the Persians, Themistokles takes to the seas in the Battle of Salamis.
Amid the bloodshed, he meets the best part of Rise of an Empire: Artemisia (Eva Green, Casino Royale). She is one scorned, vengeful, angry, evil and thoroughly entertaining woman. In fact, she even delivers the movie's best line, but it can't be printed here.
Root for the Villain
Artemisia. Yeah. It's a role Green really sinks her teeth into and she's a scene-stealer as she lays waste to innumerable men on the battlefield. Her's is the more compelling back story, to boot. Born in Greece and witness to the murder of her parents by Greeks, she's rescued as a young, destitute girl living on the streets by a Persian sword master who goes on to train her into a marauding B-word.
But Green can't save this movie single-handedly. Having the most evil person in the mix also be the most entertaining makes it mighty difficult for the heroic Athenians, Spartans and other Greek factions to be endearing, compelling and worth rooting for - despite their historic significance.
After all the carnage and the CGI 3D extravagances, the sum merely balances out against the off-kilter pacing and low-energy action. As much as the movie at times feels like it's building up steam for something really spectacular, it still simply sputters its way to the climactic battle at sea.
Much like its predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire is a mixed bag of modern-day grindhouse sex and violence, some nifty CGI visuals and characters that are more caricature than compelling.
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.