Review: 300 – Rise of an Empire

It’s time to trim your beards, wear eyeliner, shave off your chest hair and bludgeon and stab people to death in slow motion! With 300: Rise of an Empire, I’ve also reviewed the 2007 Zack Snyder film.

300: Rise of an Empire

Here’s a good example of when a director puts his name only to the role of “executive producer” and not the main task. Director Noam Murro has done adequately with extending Zack Snyder’s original experience, but it is a different animal, and far more jumbled.

While the three hundred Spartans commit to defending their land from the Persian armies, Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) takes charge of defending the coasts of Greece against the Persian navy led by the malicious Artemisia (Eva Green). Over time, when the Spartans are defeated, their martyrdom inspires the rest of Greece to band together and fight against God-King Xerxes and Artemisia.

What surprised me was the film’s initial focus on the Persians and the backstory of Xerxes himself. This is played much like Leonidas in the first film, we see Xerxes’ motivation and otherworldly transformation into “The God-King”. The Persians are less monstrous in this story, though they still have forces that appear brutish and ugly.

But don’t worry, the towering, gold adorned God-King functions as a bridge from one film to another, while Eva Green’s protrayal as Artemisia rules the roost. She does steal the show from her broad-chested male counterparts, she is easily the most involved and deeply portrayed character in both films. It is safe to say that the villains own this film.

What cannot be denied is new director Murro hasn’t quite captured the simplicity or the integrity of Snyder’s action sequences; here he falls into the old trap of waving the the camera about to invoke frenzy. While you could argue this represents the Spartan control and precision, but then I would argue why are Athens warriors dressed the same as Spartan warriors? Spartans in fact wore armour, but I forgave 300 because it was exaggerating how hardy Spartans were, but here, some contrast between the two armies (asides blue or red cloaks) would have been nice!

I would also like to make a special mention, this film loses an entire cup of cocoa because of possibly the most ridiculous sex scene I’ve ever seen (true, it does involve Eva Green, but still) Some things are best left as metaphors!
It is passable as an action film. Those of you obsessed with all things Sparta and ancient Greek warriors will love it still; plenty of action and plenty of naked bodies on show. But I’d warn you, it doesn’t have 300’s artistic cinematography, a lot of the action sequences are at sea rather than on land, and the blood is… well… overly computer generated. For me, its quite forgettable (asides from Eva Green) unlike its predecessor.

300 (2006)

Director Zack Snyder’s adaptation of a graphic novel’s embelished vision of the historic battle between three hundred Spartan warriors and the entire Persian army encroaching on Greece is a bloody, ridiculous, testosterone fueled killing machine.

While three hundred Spartans did give up their lives for a glorious death against impossible odds at the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC) and they used incredible tactics and fighting prowess to do so, the film 300 (and by extension Frank Miller’s comic adaptation) does embellish history for dramatic and visual effect. While the Spartans are noble, stoic and fierce warriors, the Persians are regularly depicted as grotesques, as monsters more suiting to myth and fairy tales. All for dramatic comparison. Those looking for a historically accurate vision… might be put off.

However, as a show of artistic cinematography born from a graphic novel’s panel art, you cannot get a more fantastic looking film. It has been a while since I’ve watched Snyder’s Watchmen, but for now I can easily say 300 is his finest work so far. Every shot is brazen and bold, the compositions are dramatic and ooze with earthy reds and metallic bronze, like Gladiator on steroids, it is a mythic action film with every intent to wow you with gut busting fight sequences. Yet the sequences are paced wonderfully; they aren’t frenetic or confusing (like a lot of modern action cinema) Snyder’s love for slow motion is in overdrive here, and scenes play out more like stage productions, replicating its source material.

The acting is as good as it could be with what the film passes off as a script, but then the film has no intention to be more than what it is: a battle. Gerald Butler gives a intensely memorable performance, roaring and yelling with a primal sense of honor, but the more sensitive scenes in Sparta, featuring Game of Thrones elite Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo, fall into forgettable territory next to the bloody warmongering and over-the-top villainy.

It knows what it is; a bloody, kinetic action film that takes no prisoners. Zack Snyder should be proud (although how much directorial work is required when taking stills from an artist’s existing work is debatable) as this film, nay, this artwork is surely his most polished and most comprehensible piece yet. There might be little under the surface and it might be an indulgence, but it sure is memorable cinema!

Additional Marshmallows: 300 was released before the Cinema Cocoa blog as it exists today, but the records still remain. It was rated tenth in 2007’s final leaderboard. Tenth of a massive one-hundred and twenty films watched that year!

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