Wednesday, March 12, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire review

Back in 2007, 300 was a legitimate cultural phenomenon. As most people have noted, 300 is almost solely responsible for making March a "blockbuster" month. It also paved the way for films like Watchmen, The Spirit and Sucker Punch to be released. Slow-motion action was all the rage and people were quoting "This is Sparta!" constantly. Typically, when there's a hit in Hollywood, a sequel gets made almost immediately. With 300, that didn't happen. Director Zack Snyder went on to direct films like Watchmen and Man of Steel and Warner Bros. pretty much forgot about 300. However, like all studios do, Warner Bros. ran out of original ideas and decided to turn to a 300 sequel. Zack Snyder signed on as a producer and Noam Murro was hired as the director. 300: Rise of an Empire is very much like the original film, except that there's less of a story and less of a focused plot. It works good if you want insane amounts of blood and gore, but if you're looking for anything else, go see another movie.

300: Rise of an Empire is a prequel, a companion piece and a sequel. This film tells the story of how the war with the Persians started. Ten years before the Battle of Thermopylae, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) of Athens led troops at the Battle of Marathon. He killed the Persian king Darius and his son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his leading general Artemesia (Eva Green) wanted revenge. They begin a quest to end Greece's reign and conquer the land. Then, the action shifts to the naval battles going on during the Battle of Thermopylae. And finally, Rise of an Empire concludes with the final battle between the Persians and Greeks led by Themistokles and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey).

The first 300 was one of those crowd pleasing films that told a story that you could really get behind as an audience member. Like Braveheart and Gladiator before it, 300 told a revenge story with moments of brutal carnage that also invested you in the story. 300: Rise of an Empire attempts to do that again, but it ends up getting bogged down in its own pool of blood. There's barely a moment in Rise of an Empire where someone isn't getting stabbed with a geyser of blood spraying out. It gets to the point where it's hilarious. This is corny, ridiculous filmmaking at its finest.

Rise of an Empire is held afloat by a couple of interesting characters, but the cast is still not nearly as impressive as last time. Eva Green gives a strong performance at times, but she's also extremely over the top and it gets to be ridiculous at a point. Sullivan Stapleton is our lead and he's alright. The film does a good job of making him a likable, inspirational hero, but doesn't care enough about him to give him any backstory. The supporting cast is mostly forgettable, except for an inspired turn by Jack O'Connell as an Athenian solider. O'Connell is going to be in the upcoming film Unbroken, which I'm very excited about. He could end up being the Michael Fassbender of this movie: a little known actor at the time, who breaks out later on (Fassbender was in 300 before he was an Oscar-nominated star).

The technical aspects of this film are mostly brilliant. Sometimes, there's a little too much green screen and you definitely notice it, but other times, the film looks absolutely stunning and is visually spectacular. The sound is great, the visual effects are beautiful and the production design is gorgeous. All in all, this is a beautifully crafted film. Except for the buckets of obvious CGI blood which are ridiculously fake looking.

Let's not kid ourselves though: the only reason anyone wants to see this movie is for the brutal, bloody action. And if that's what you're looking for, that's what you'll get. There's literally non-stop gore in this film. From the very first scene to the very last scene, buckets of CGI blood fly in almost unimaginable ways. People are decapitated, stabbed, dismembered. You name a way to die by sword or arrow, it's in this movie somewhere.

Now look, I love brutal carnage as much as the next guy, but 300: Rise of an Empire takes it to an extreme. The carnage in this movie is so outlandish and so prevalent, that you just can't help but laugh. Literally, I was laughing during many scenes in this movie. From the two minute staredown between the two armies to the scene where a man's head is crushed by a horse to the constant flying gore, Rise of an Empire is laughably ridiculous in every way imaginable. Dialogue is so cliched and predictable and there's a line towards the end of the film that I can't believe made the final cut.

The story is blandly forgettable as well. I seriously can't remember much about it mere hours after watching the film. That's a terrible sign for a film. The dialogue is pretty awful and the plotting gets bogged down at times. Simply put, it's not a well-written movie and it's not intended to be. It's a gorefest from beginning to end and it's not ashamed of that.

People will certainly have a lot of fun with Rise of an Empire. Just in a different way. It's unintentionally hilarious and filled with stunning, yet laughable action scenes that are so pervasive that you just start to laugh uncontrollably at some point. The film doesn't mean to be funny, but when you have a movie that is so cliched and so violent, you're bound to get some laughs. 300: Rise of an Empire is one of those movies that is strictly a rental. It's a film that you can certainly have some fun making fun of and would be a lot of fun to watch with friends. But there's no escaping that it's a bad movie. It's just one of those movies that is so bad that it's unintentionally decent.

THE FINAL SCORE:  C-                                              (5.7/10)

Image Credit: Rama Screen

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