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Army Surplus – A review of 300: Rise of an Empire

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I didn’t like the first 300. It was a dull, headache-inducing and seemed to have been written by a 14 year old boy. Nevertheless it was a monster hit, and with its mix of history with stylized violence and sex was hugely influential. It’s a surprise then that the sequel has taken such a long time coming.

Well, I say sequel, though it’s more of a story happening parallel to the events in 300. It follows Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) who leads a war against the Persians, led by Artemisia ( Eva Green), a bloodthirsty warrior of the giant god-king Xerxes. The premise of looking at the other side of the war in 300, instead of just doing a prequel or sequel, is an interesting choice. Of course, following the Spartans after 300’s ending would make an Olympic event of logical gymnastics. I went in to the movie not expecting much, but hoping it would be stupid dumb fun. A guilty pleasure.

How wrong I was. It’s astoundingly boring. Lena Headey, returning as Queen of Sparta, starts the film with so much voice-over exposition that it’s as though the Star Wars opening scroll has been left running until it reaches the edge of the universe. It is supposed to enlighten us as to how Xerxes went from ordinary man to the giant deity he is, but this possibly interesting back story is explained away by Xerxes submerging himself in a magic pool and emerging fully transformed. How did he change? What was that pond of screenwriting convenience?  Why is dressed like a Brazilian Mardi Gras dancer? These are questions that I would be wondering if I cared at all.

Themistocles is a character without a glimmer of personality other than ‘tough’. At least Gerard Butler, the original’s protagonist, had a tongue in cheek wit, and lines so memorable that people now wear them on T shirts. Here, Stapleton’s Themistocles has dense dialogue, without any irony or humour, and every line is delivered with either a frown or a shout.

The idea of a female antagonist is an interesting one, especially since the first film was one of cinema’s biggest sausage-fests, yet Eva Green is far too femme-fatale elegant to convince as a brutal war lord. In fact, rather than gender balance, I suspect the only reason a female villain was included was to shoe-horn some boobs in.

The heavy use of computer graphics and slow motion gives the fighting a video-game look, which becomes very tiring, sort of like watching someone play PlayStation. The action in this film is on a much larger scale than it is in 300, yet is actually less exciting. While Zack Snyder, the original’s director, clearly has an eye for cool visuals, director Noam Murro thinks it’s all about quantity. So we get huge amounts of battle ships, thousands and thousands of soldiers, massive explosions. But the more we get the more we take it all for granted. And since it’s all clearly been programmed by men sitting at computers there’s no real sense of awe.

While the original had flaws, it was bold. It created something new, a film that looked like nothing we’ve seen before, and led to a barrage of copy-cats. This film is feels like yet another imitator. It doesn’t attempt anything new, just more of the same. It may have abs, but it doesn’t have balls.

 

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