300: Rise Of An Empire (2014)
I’m assuming you’re as surprised to see this film report for battle at the Menagerie as I’m surprised that I went to see it but here we are, the world is full of mysteries and unexplained phenomena. I didn’t particularly care for Zack Snyder’s 2007 adaption of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, despite his loathsome politics I’m a massive fan of his comic book work, especially when one is in the mood for simple, guilty-free carnage and adrenaline fuelled heroics, if you’ll forgive me for resorting to the film critics phraseology cliché manual. I can’t say this long mooted sequel was on my radar and early digestion of the original trailer didn’t particularly convince me of its potential merit, superhero-esque adaptions are ten a penny these days and my palette usually cleaves to more intellectual material, but the early reviews had me increasingly intrigued, especially since just about everyone over the age of say 45 disliked it but the younger crowd stood firm and asserted that for simple enjoyment it had a lot of style and flair which is worth a couple of hours of your time. It’s been a surprise hit heading north toward a $300 million global take, not that box-office should dictate one’s viewing choices of course, but as something a little more throwaway and undemanding this has slowly infiltrated my resistance, alongside the claims of Eva Green’s enticing performance my antipathy was cudgelled into submission, plus I just felt an appetite for spending a day at the flicks and needed something to pre-empt a second screening of Under The Skin – so here we are comrades…..
300: Rise of An Empire is more of sidequel than a prequel or sequel, given that its events concur with the original tale of 300 brave Spartan souls who parried with the vast force of a vicious and unyielding invading Persian battle fleet, threatening to overwhelm the Greek cradle of democracy and set a tyrannical darkness across the earth. Sparta is only one of numerous Greek city states which make up its holistic government, so Rise Of An Empire looks elsewhere whilst King Leonidas epic resistance was raging, boiling down to a lightning streaked face-off between Greek commander Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and the deliciously deadly Artemisia (Eva Green), the Persian king’s right hand woman and cunning commander of his vast and cruel army. Born as a Grecian she saw her family raped and murdered by marauding countrymen, entombed as a pleasure slave for years in a pirate ship she was eventually discarded on a city street, taken in by a passing Persian noble and raised as a warrior, her ruthless battlefield achievements swiftly securing her as a confident of the inner nobility. After Themistocles leads an insurgent strike against an early Persian incursion into their territory he fatally wounds the then Persian king with a well placed arrow, prompting his son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) to inherit the empire, proclaim himself god-king and set himself on a path of righteous vengeance, all orchestrated by Artemisia’s clandestine manipulations. The clock is ticking on a potential unity of Greek forces as Themistocles desperately attempts to repulse the invading and overwhelming fleet with his rag-tag force of non-professional warriors, as his unconventional maritime tactics slowly defrosts Artemisia’s respectful enmity….
There are many words to describe this film, artificial, absurd, exaggerated and unashamed immediately spring to mind, it’s also spectacularly violent with an emphasis on the spectacularly, and that’s why I think I so shamefully enjoyed it so much. The film has exactly zero to say on an emotional, social, intellectual or political level, what it is fiercely proud to be is 102 minutes of finely executed carnage and that’s kind of what I wanted and it delivered in entrail splattered spades. The entire film, every individual pixel and wider frame was so obviously generated in a computer with green screen mannequin capture the only nod to any passing sense of human engagement, a production process which normally leaves me colder than Poseidon’s deepest aquatic slumbers. Yet somehow the design seemed to curiously fit the movies tone and direct proposition, to aim and achieve little more than pure action amelioration, to cleave straight to the swiftly beating heart and avoid any weak defence of what it all might and should mean. The speed ramping is also on full display which is a technical technique I usually loathe as nothing more than leering cinematic masturbation, maybe it’s my mood but again I simply laid back and let the film sweep over me, if you’re in a similarly unresisting mood then there is much to enjoy – I was shaking my head and grinning like a psychopathic loon numerous times, so yes professional assistance is being sought. If you find yourself aroused by stirring barked speeches of ‘dying on your feet rather than living on your knees’ then you’ll be howling for battle, a complete and utter disregard for historical accuracy, gender politics or the laws of physics massacred at the throne of pure, unadulterated, empty spectacle.
There are some slightly perfunctory moments when characters actually speak to each for a bit and try to generate some characterisation which are as superficial as the film’s production credo, so it doesn’t dwell too long on these distractions before it gets back to the next brutally executed melee, tactical flourish and cauldrons of blood drenching the screen. And then of course there is Eva Green, the films scorching secret weapon, in terms of full disclosure I’m a big fan of her and she is spectacularly sultry, worth the price of admission alone as a battle maiden superbaddass who more than equals the blokes as a one person threshing machine, cleaving her way through ineffectual opponents with a neutron star dense thirst for vengeance which, well, she’s just fucking awesome OK? The visuals are resplendent and gorgeous to wallow within, obviously evidenced and sourced from computer game brethren – many have compared this to a live action version of the popular God Of War series – but I quite like that historical franchise so this really wasn’t a problem. Juvenile? Yes. Sheer sensation and surface? Absolutely. But if you’re in the mood for a cinematic spectacle which can send shivers up the spine (it’s also got a cracking, soaring score from Nolan and Hans Zimmer collaborator Junkie XL which enhances the experience), for mindless bloodshed and havoc then you’ve come to the right place, shameless and unapologetic Hollywood holography of the finest and most noble calibre;