March 4, 2014 Leave a comment
When her husband is slain during the Battle of Marathon in 490BC, Artemisia (Eva Green), hell-bent on revenge, uses magic to turn Persian ruler Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) into the god-King. The man responsible, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), a naval commander, travels to Sparta in an attempt to unite Greece in their fight against the invading forces of Persia. He gets a cold reception from Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), whose husband — on advice from an oracle — has already left with three hundred Spartan soldiers to fight Xerxes’ forces. When Leonidas (Gerard Butler, in recycled footage from the first movie) falls and his army is slain, however, Gorgo has a change of heart and agrees to help. At the Battle of Artemisium, as Athens burns in the distance, Themistocles — with help from Scyllias (Callum Mulvey), his son Calisto (Jack O’Connell), and Aesyklos (Hans Matheson) — battlesto the last for the future of the Greek Empire.
Or something like that. It’s not always entirely clear what’s going on in 300: Rise Of An Empire; it’s almost impossible to get to grips with the characters’ archaic names, let alone untangle the indistinguishable fight scenes and identical armaments that make it difficult to tell what battle you’re watching or who’s actually fighting in it. In fact, unless you’re au fait with Grecian history (or have watched the first film on repeat since its release) it may even take the first act just to work out who you’re supposed to be rooting for. The first film kept things relatively simple: Gerard Butler and Michael Fassbender vs. the massive bald guy; but here there are innumerable villains, as Artemisia dispenses a seemingly never-ending array of generals to fight an equally never-ending series of naval battles.
A pseudo-sequel of sorts, dealing with the events before, during and after the Battle of Thermopylae from 300 (but no later than the first film’s epilogue, confusingly), the stage was set for 300: Rise Of An Empire to disappoint all who didn’t know better. After all, Butler had declined to return, the novelty of historical fantasy had long since worn off and Rise Of An Empire‘s release had already been delayed for six months — it doesn’t take an oracle to predict disaster. Surprisingly – not least considering the incoherentness of the film’s plot — new director Noam Murro has put together a film that is bigger, undoubtedly, but also arguably better than Zack Snyder’s original. If anything, there’s even more slow-motion, gore and nudity than before, and yet Murro’s commitment to making the most preposterous movie he can results in a film that is strangely pure and even admirable.
He’s not the only one who seems determined to giving the film their all. Eva Green seems drunk on testosterone as Artemisia, punctuating every line with a massacre and indulging in one of the strangest, most impassioned and downright alarming sex scenes of recent memory. Lena Headey is another woman on a mission, getting to utter the franchise’s “this is Sparta” tagline and ultimately save the day as Queen Gorgo. The male cast look a little lost by comparison — perhaps they’re all still constipated from their last brick of protein — but they still impress in their ability to loose limbs with little more than a light swing of their swords and ride horses across a navy in the heat of battle. Santoro had to shoot most of his scenes in isolation because of the effects work needed to make him a giant, and one of the film’s biggest joys is watching his character try to interact with others. The only greater enjoyment comes from listening to O’Connell struggle with an accent that isn’t “chav”.
The dialogue seems as though its been directly lifted from the graphic novel, to the extent that your brain almost tricks you into seeing the speech bubbles floating above the action, and yet it is delivered with such gravity and solidarity that not only do you not mind, but you might actually be roused by it. Morro throws everything at the screen — blood, baby oil, a dead body — as if to see what might stick, then throws it all again for good measure. At one point Xerxes stands on a platform to overlook his kingdom, a scene composition that works rather well in 3D, only to then do it again and again throughout the movie. It’s incredible to watch; the sort of movie that seems designed not for a cinema but for a theme park, where in addition to stereoscopy customers can also enjoy D-Box, Aromascope and jets of ambiguous liquid to the face. I can only imagine it would smell as ripe as it sounds.
Though it might get few points for originality, then (in fact, original subtitle Battle of Artemisium was dropped for sounding “too exotic”), 300: Rise Of An Empire certainly gets points for effort. Run at normal speed Murro’s film might only be eleven minutes long, but they’re likely to be eleven of the loudest, dumbest and most gloriously over-the-top minutes you’ve spent in the cinema this year.