300: Rise Of An Empire (2014)

Info SidebarI have never been fond of unplanned sequels. Clearly they only exist to make the studios some extra money. No thought is given to the fans, without whom there’d be no movie in the first place. When the two Matrix sequels came out, I was probably too young and naive to ask myself if they were really needed. Now, when I look back, they’d have to be among the most absurd sequels known to modern day cinema.

I enjoyed the first 300. Never mind the hullabaloo about their CGI-chiseled bodies and historically inaccurate attire. It was faithful to Frank Miller’s graphic novel, in very much the same way that Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City was. It was stylish, bold, and it created vigour where there was originally none. Shots seemed to me like paintings, carefully plotted. The music was a lightning bolt of traditional and electric. When blood and guts spewed across the screen, there was a certain poetry to their movement. Say what you will, 300 was a glorious film. And I wasn’t prepared.

Now we have the sequel, a good 8 years later. And the most praise I can give it is how much it tries to replicate its predecessor. Visually, it’s almost the same, save for a number of wonky handheld shots that make it impossible to determine who’s who and who’s doing what. There’s a lot of slow-motion. A lot of computer generated glow. The characters are not so much inhabiting a moment in history as they are living their lives born fresh from graphic novel paper.

Take the hero, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), with his action star stubble. Who is he? How has he risen so high in the Greek council? Is he only fighting for Greece? We know nothing of his personal life. We see him fight from time to time, and when he’s not fighting he’s giving pep talks and motivational speeches. To what end? Greece needs a hero to save her from the clutches of Persia, and so the script — penned by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, based on the unreleased graphic novel by Miller — gives her one. Plucked from thin air probably. Themistocles says he’s descended from the gods. He very well could be.

The plot is a carbon copy of 300’s, with Persia arriving — this time by sea — to demolish the whole of Greece. There is some backstory here. We learn that Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) from the first film wants revenge because Themistocles fired an arrow through his father’s heart. He travels the desert and becomes a god-king by taking a swim in a hermit cave. And we discover that Athens and the rest of Greece initially wanted the isolated Sparta to stand strong with the rest of the nation. These scenes, which feature King Leonidas and some archival bits from the first movie, are the best, mainly because they shed light not on this film, but on the one that came before.

The villain is new. Artemisia (Eva Green) is her name, and she’d fit very nicely in a BDSM house where black is the norm and whipping and other kinds of physical abuse are commissioned as standard practice. Perhaps there is such a place in the Persian empire. She’s a cold Greek woman. She had to watch her family being raped and murdered before her eyes, before succumbing to rape herself at the hands of snivelling Greek scumbags. Now, as history would have it, she seeks revenge on the very country that gave her life. The screenplay crowns her as a master of naval command, yet her actions at sea seem to suggest that she’s better at sex than combat. War — especially war as depicted in a Miller novel — has no room for chivalry.

There is going to be a third film. The ending of this one leaves no question. What I want to know is “why?”. When will Hollywood realise that sequels shouldn’t be about money? A good sequel, as far as I’m concerned, should strive to maintain and preserve its characters. This is where The Matrix sequels failed. Neo became a hero. He was no longer the timid prodigy who found cracked mirrors interesting. He lost his personality for the sake of more screen time. What a tragedy that was. And don’t get me started on Agent Smith.


Best Moment | Nope.

Worst Moment | Any scene with Eva Green. Except the sex scene.

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