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300 sequel falls short by 299.5

If you're curious about 300: Rise of an Empire, please just rewatch the first movie

By: Scott Hayes

  |  Posted: Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 06:00 am

WEAK COMMAND Ė As Athenian general Themistokles, actor Sullivan Stapleton fails to take command of the big screen.
WEAK COMMAND Ė As Athenian general Themistokles, actor Sullivan Stapleton fails to take command of the big screen.
Supplied photo

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Review

300: Rise of an Empire
Stars: 0.5
Starring Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro
Directed by Noam Murro
Written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad
Rated 18A for gory, brutal genre violence, disturbing images, and sexual content
Runtime: 102 minutes
Now playing at Grandin Theatres, Cineplex Odeon North Edmonton and Scotiabank Theatre

Itís been eight years since Zack Snyderís film version of the original Frank Miller graphic novel 300. Time, apparently, has ravaged so much that it is far easier to contrast the wondrous spectacle of the first than to compare it with the heinous debacle of this second.

If you enjoyed the first, stop there and go no further. If you enter this world by starting with this movie then it is highly advisable to then go back to its progenitor to see step by step and frame by frame exactly where 300: Rise of an Empire went wrong.

The extended story is still based on actual history, or at least history as Iíve understood it to be true. In or about 500 BC, the Persian Empire sought to expand its borders by attacking Greece. King Leonidas of Sparta (as played by Gerard Butler in 300) angled to cut off an attack of many, many thousands of invaders by charging in with 300 of his best Spartan soldiers.

This new movie occurs on a concurrent timeline. At the beginning, I wasnít so sure. Things were confusing as presented.

Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is a celebrated Athenian general who figures that the best way to fend off a marauding horde is to meet them in battle before they get to land. He takes a naval armada out to sea to reproach the Persians Ė led by Artemisia (Eva Green) Ė who have their own extensive fleet of vessels filled with brawlers armed with swords and bows.

But letís put history aside for this review, shall we? No one came to this theatre looking for insight into ancient European and Middle Eastern geopolitics. This is a movie about action, about hand-to-hand combat, about gritty life-and-death battles, about the struggle between tyranny and democratic freedom Ö and glorified abdominal workouts to build muscles that no mere mortal could ever achieve.

Itís also about yelling and stern looks and a whole bunch of hoo-hah that has to happen every time a movie features an epic battle or two: inspirational pep talk shouted at the top of the generalís lungs, a father and son finally come to understand that masculine lineage means everything because one of them is about to perish, and no one ever seems to miss their mark, even when throwing a sword across hundreds of yards of windy, wavy ocean.

All this and a battlefield full of Greeks speaking with auspiciously British accents. How, why and when did moviemakers first determine that all of the ancients came from the United Kingdom?

What I learned from 300: Rise of an Empire is that the ridiculous, the brutish and the boring is alive and well in Hollywood. Whereas the first movie had a story and characters that I came to care about, this one has a protagonist and an entire cast that I had no reason to root for.

In fact, there was much cause to root for Artemisia and Green seemed like the only cast member who understood what dramatic representation means, yet she was the main villain.

Casting problems

The only good that came out of it was that it made me interested in a specific aspect of some world history.

Stapleton sadly had no force of personality or charisma to carry off this role. I donít blame him, only the casting director. Itís a sorry state of affairs when Gerard Butler suddenly seems like Olivier when put next to another thespian trying to puff his chest out as well. This movie suffers because neither he, nor Green, nor Leonidasí widow Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) has any amount of screen presence in order to carry the weight of the roles that they were assigned.

Donít blame them though. This was the casting directorís failing and it was huge.

The story, while compelling, was far too obtuse and confusing. It could have used a few rewrites to sharpen it up, make it a little faster and possibly even a bit believable and realistic.

At the start, I wasnít even sure where it existed on the Greece vs. Persia timeline. In the face of such an impenetrable plot, the extreme violence also seemed quite out of place.

Had we had a clear idea about the brutality of the extended conflict, then we the audience might have been better prepared to tolerate the endless decapitations, amputations and punctuations.

Strange, since the script was still co-written by two of the three fellas that came up with the first cranker. While 300 was heightened cinema at its highest, 300: Empire is like its sad, younger brother who didnít get as much attention from Mommy and Daddy.


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