Wednesday, March 19, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire

300: Rise of an Empire is the sequel to 2006's 300, which is in turn based on a graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller. This is important, because from the name one might be tempted to assume that the movie is based on the historical story of the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae. The best that can be said of either movie, historically speaking, is that they might inspire a viewer to look up what actually happened.

300's great virtue was its visual style. The sequel very much follows in the same vein, with mixed results. 300 was a very simple story with larger-than-life characters where everything was heroic, grandiose, and overacted. 300: Rise of an Empire (hereafter shortened to Rise) covers the same time period as 300 plus previous and subsequent events. It has a much larger scope, and it fails to maintain the dramatic tension necessary to make the overblown style work.

Rise tells the other half of the story of Xerxes' invasion of Greece: while the 300 Spartans (and a whole lot of other Greeks which 300 conveniently left out) defended Thermopylae, the allied Greek navy (led by Athens) fought the Persians at sea. The protagonist this time around is Themistocles, an Athenian soldier based on an actual Athenian politician from history. This role is played by Sullivan Stapleton, who is less rugged than Gerard Butler was but still physically impressive.

This leads me to one of my biggest problems with Rise - in 300, we were shown heroes among men, the best fighters in the world, whose martial feats are immortalized in memory; in Rise, it appears that everyone can fight like that. Themistocles is the hero, so there may be some excuse for him, but random Athenian soldiers appear as skilled as the legendary Spartan 300. This cheapens not just Rise but the first 300 as well. The fight scenes are very good, though.

Stapleton's acting is perfectly adequate. He does less scenery-chewing than Gerard Butler did, opting for a quieter but still intense portrayal. It works well.

The villain of Rise is Eva Green as Artemisia, a Greek woman working for Xerxes. Green exudes charisma, and is almost pretty enough to distract from the lack of any actual depth in her character.

Xerxes himself also appears, and is more interesting than he was in 300. Likewise Queen Gorgo returns, but in both cases and especially for her, their presence is more about connecting to the first movie than actual relevance to the plot.

If you liked the first 300, this is much the same but slightly less compelling. If you did not like the first 300, you will not like Rise. If you know anything about ancient naval warfare or the history of the events depicted, be prepared to suppress that knowledge. If you are able to relax enough to see the movie over your eye-rolling, then the movie is reasonably enjoyable.

I did not see the movie in 3D.

Performance: 3/5
Plot: 2/5
Production: 3/5
Overall: 2.5/5
Bechdel: Fail
Reverse-Bechdel: Pass
Mako Mori: Fail
What are these?

1. Lone Survivor
2. The Wind Rises
3. The Lego Movie
4. Lust For Love
5. Pompeii
6. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
7. I, Frankenstein
8. Monuments Men
9. Knights of Badassdom
10. 300: Rise of an Empire
11. RoboCop
12. Winter's Tale
13. The Legend of Hercules
14. 3 Days to Kill

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