Friday, 16 January 2015

'300: Rise of an Empire' Review

While King Leonidas fights and loses the Battle of Thermopylae, Themistocles asks the Greek council for a navy to attack the Persian fleet with. The Persian fleet is commanded by Artemisia, a fierce woman known for her ruthlessness in battle. Can Themistocles defeat her and finally unite Greece together or will the country fall under the might of Persia?

So I didn’t have high hopes for ‘300: Rise of an Empire’. I recently watched ‘Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For’ and was rather disappointed. Therefore I had no reason to assume that yet another needless Frank Miller sequel could be worth much. So is ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ worth watching? Or did it fail to ‘URN’ my respect.. he he he

Like a great many people I rather enjoyed the original ‘300’. Although very enjoyable however it was certainly not a piece of film art, neither was it trying to be one. I am happy to say that ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ is simply trying to be more of the same, bringing with it the strengths and weaknesses of that similarity.

I enjoyed ‘300: Rise of an Empire’, certainly not as much as the original but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The battles remain brilliantly choreographed, the speeches suitably rousing. The only real issue with ‘300: Rise of the Empire’ comes in the fact that you can’t catch lightning in a bottle twice. We’ve seen ‘300’, this is more ‘300’.

Although in saying it is more ‘300’, it is more of a very specific kind of ‘300’. The battle scenes that were once deliberately punctuated with slow motion and gore are now constantly in slow motion, with rivers of blood shooting everywhere. Much of the blood hits the camera, along with splinters of wood and anything else that can be fired towards the audience. ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ went to the Jaws 3D school of 3D, with objects constantly flying towards the audience in an overly deliberate way. In watching this film in 2D, as I did, these 3D scenes look really strange and somewhat amusing.

The battle scenes are very good, which is fortunate considering they take up about 80% of the film. You can see that a lot of work went into choreographing these fight scenes and it shows on the screen. Much of the issue with these moments comes entirely from the lack of emotional connection with those fighting. Efforts have been made to engage us on a deeper level. For example we have a father and son fighting together, but these characters feel more like archetypes than flesh and blood creations, it is hard to really care about them. Sullivan Stapleton does a great job of playing Themistocles, but Themistocles is not Leonidas, despite the film wishing he was.

In terms of characters ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ has a clear winner in that of Artemisia, as played by Eva Green. Every scene that Green is part of comes alive in her presence. She really sells the idea of a female leader that armies would respect and fear. The only issue that she brings to the film is the amount of focus she shares with Themistocles, particularly due to a rather weird implied love between the pair. ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ lacks the singular focus of Leonidas and suffers due to it. I feel in some ways that an Artemisia film, shown entirely from her point of view would have worked a million times better.

For those who criticised ‘300’ for its political undertones towards the middle east, ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ continues this trend in earnest. We are treated to numerous speeches about the importance of freedom and democracy and the evils of Persian tyranny. I guess this is something to expect in a post 9/11 world and it is not as overt as it could be.

One weird thing about this film is how much more violent it is when compared to the original. Like ‘Sin City 2’, ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ seems to have been given the grindhouse treatment also. Although the addition of further violence, sex and sexual violence is not entirely welcome, it has not destroyed this film in the way it did ‘Sin City 2’. The universe of ‘300’ has no real airs of trying to be philosophical, so making the world more violent does not take away from it. Neither however does the more unpleasant world add anything to it.

‘300: Rise of An Empire’ looks and sounds really good. It isn’t as strong as the original film but the visual side of this it remains of a really high standard. It is nice to see the use of visual symbolism and repeated imagery in a film such as this. Most films today seem to prefer a sense of visual realism at the expense of working on the psyche of the audience.

So is ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ any good? If you like ‘300’ you’ll like this film. If you didn’t like ‘300’ you will dislike this film even more. It is clear how much of an impact Zack Snyder can have on a film. Without him at the helm of the sequel, ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ doesn’t have much bite. It tries to cover this by shocking the audience and fails. The battle scenes however are brilliant and the characters likeable, if not a bit generic. If nothing else ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ is at least 300 times better than ‘Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill for’, although that wouldn’t be hard.

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