300: Rise of an Empire | Movie Review #2 – For glory’s sake.. WAR!

“You’ve come a long way to stroke your cock while you watch real men train.” Says Queen Gorgo played by Lena Headey and I can’t help but think that she’s directing this disparaging remark towards me and the other 300 millennials in the auditorium, with our 3D goggles and rubber print T-shirts. But it is Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) who takes the brunt for us as he tries to talk sense into the Spartan queen about the threat of an advancing Persian navy and the need for unification of Greece. This is the premise to the second Persian invasion of Greece, albeit a rather skewed perception through the ‘goodie west, baddie east’ eyes of big budget Hollywood production houses.
300: Rise of an Empire is the much awaited prequel, midquel and sequel to Zack Snyder’s 300, a classic example of comic books being refashioned on celluloid. This time, the plot is focussed on Athens, neighbour to Sparta and the largest among all Greek city-states. The Athenians, led by Themistocles manage to save Greek sovereignty by defeating and killing Darius I of Persia in the Battle of Marathon. Xerxes(Rodrigo Santoro), the son of Darius, vows to avenge the loss and obliterate Greece from history. Encouraged by his naval commander Artemisia(Eva Green), he undergoes a metaphysical transformation to emerge a demigod who would take over the reigns from his father and commandeer a vast army that leads to the defeat of King Leonidas and the brave 300. Meanwhile, Artemisia, Xerxes’s right-hand woman wages a naval war against Themistocles and the Grecians in the Aegean Sea. Her hate of Greece is only exceeded by Themistocles’s love for freedom and both would fight through blood, fire and storm till one rises above the other and changes the course of history.
Commercials director Noam Murro has pulled out all the stops to make this movie a visual delight with its blue/bronze tinge and bloodthirsty action, an orgy of decapitated bodies, faces splattered with red and sudden slow-motion fight scenes from the Zack Snyder book of side-scroller violence. But even the most hardcore gore fan will be left begging for originality as all the action in its bloody glory was impressive back in 2006. Now, it just seems repetitive and might I add, tedious. No amount of violence can save a film if it has a script that is as weak and wobbly as the Ephialtes the humpback traitor. The voice-over by Lena Headey is overused and  it is indicative that without it, the story would just fall apart. The first film was so quotable and each sentence had an impact over the audience. In this one, the dialogues are prosaic and pointless and muttered only to emphasize the importance of “freedom” and “democracy” to Greeks (who were slave owners too, just in case you didn’t know). Though it tries to show the dynamics of Greek politics and aspects of Athenian democracy, its leader Themistocles played by Sullivan Stapleton falls flat as a convincing voice for freedom. His character looks diminished and emaciated when compared to Gerard Butler’s Spartans. But maybe that is a result of Themistocles’s weak-minded education-based upbringing as opposed to militaristic Spartan attitudes. Stapleton’s Themistocles is more measured and tactful in his approach to politics but lacks the authority required of a General. Opposite him is the fiery Eva Green in the role of Artemisia, the Greek-born Persian naval commander, the creator and puppeteer of Xerxes. Green owns every frame she is in, delivering every threat and command with a cold conviction. A memorable villainess and a magnificent performance, without it, the movie might as well go straight to DVD. Other important roles are played by Callan Mulvey and Jack O’Connell as the father-son duo of Scyllias and Calisto. David Wenham reprises his role as Delios, though it is limited.
The film’s title is misleading as I was expecting it to be a story about Xerxes and his rise to power. Also, given the fact that it is based on Frank Miller’s Xerxes, his story is wrapped up hastily and the focus is shifted to Themistocles and Artemisia. Overall, it feels like being conned into watching a bad story disguised as meaningful causality about white people fighting brown people spilling red blood in a blue sea. But hey, at least we get to watch real men train!
My Rating: 2.5/5

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