300: Rise of an Empire (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Noam Murro, and starring Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell, Andrew Tiernan, Igal Naor, Andrew Pleavin, Ben Turner, Christopher Sciueref, and Steven Cree.
The long-awaited follow-up to Zack Snyder’s 300 has finally arrived after eight years of “fanboy” anticipation. While the film’s screenplay is, once again, written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, and based upon a Frank Miller graphic novel (this time it’s Xerxes), the director’s chair is occupied by a different man: Noam Murro, whose only other feature film credit is 2008’s Smart People, a film of a decidedly different genre. The results here are mixed, and the film suffers from a lack of restraint that ends up offending the viewer.
Without getting into too much detail, the film follows Greek general Themostikles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he takes on man-turned-God Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian naval commander, the vengeful and bitter Artemisia (Eva Green), in a battle on the sea with competing armies.
Interestingly enough, the film’s weak spot is its script. The film weaves its story into confusing webs that pre-date, post-date, and run concurrently with the events of the preceding film; it is, seemingly, both a sequel and a prequel. All of this is added onto the already confusing nomenclature and geography of a pre-Christ world, and the resulting confusion one feels is understandable.
Like the first film, 300: Rise of an Empire is hyper-stylistic – this time in blood-splattering 3D. While the 3D aspect perfectly complements the computer-generated world that Miller and Snyder have created (undoubtedly some of the most beautiful imagery that filmgoers will have the privilege of witnessing this year), the filmmakers revel in the exploitation of the medium by launching untold amounts of glorious, gushing blood toward the audience and the screen. It happens so often that one would think the filmmakers found some sort of glee in doing so – and one would be right. That is, perhaps, the point of a film like this: watching a graphic novel play out on screen in a hyperbolic world where everyone has a six-pack and no one grows up anything but a gladiator. As long as it’s not taken too seriously, the feeling seems to be, then it’s harmless entertainment. That is, of course, preposterous, but the target audience isn’t exactly the type that’s sensitive to the hyper-violence of our culture. The target audience will enjoy the endless decapitations, the impaling of countless soldiers, and grossly violent deaths the filmmakers dreamt up for their viewing pleasure.
The target audience might even enjoy one of the most stunningly distasteful sex scenes to ever hit the screen, one that rivals the repulsiveness of The Wolf of Wall Street: Themostikles and Artemisia indulge their sexual tension during a meeting of rivals, converting their power struggle into a sexual language that comes off as consensual, yes, but ultimately, and mutually, “rapey”. It’s disturbing, to say the least, and one wonders what discussions the MPAA had regarding it.
The performances are quite good, however, and, along with the film’s masterful computer-generated imagery, save the film from becoming a total misfire. Relative unknown Sullivan Stapleton carries the film without losing the interest of the audience and Eva Green, as always, stands out in every film she’s in even if it’s not that great. Her intensity and passion come together to create an ingenious enemy for an army of men: a woman scorned.
At the end, one can’t help but wonder how great the film would’ve been with a less confusing script and some self-restraint on the part of the filmmakers, for the audience is assaulted rather than entertained.
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