300: Rise of an Empire

Well…. worst movie of the year so far: 300 Rise of an Empire. Watched it earlier this week and oh my, is this a steaming pile of shit.

In all fairness: i didn’t expect much. Let’s take a look at the facts: it’s directed by Noam Murro. His only significant (and I feel like I’m stretching the meaning of the word significant here) earlier credit is Smart People from 2008, a 2008 romantic comedy vehicle starring Dennis Quaid and everyone’s favorite movie horse Sarah Jessica Parker. For the sake of honesty, I watched it before writing this and it’s not great – Quaid phones it in, Parker essentially plays herself and I found myself enjoying the scenes with Ellen Page and Thomas Haden Church way too much, probably because I tried to suck as much enjoyment out of the film as I possibly could. 95 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

Okay, back to the film at hand: we’ve got three writing credits for Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Frank Miller. Johnstad’s only solo-credit is the forgettable US army extended TV-ad Act of Valor, besides that he wrote 300 together with Miller and Snyder. Snyder’s other writing credit is Sucker Punch, which was just a tad too early to capitalize on the ever-expanding teen market and was really just an elaborate excuse to film hot chicks in schoolgirl outfits kicking ass – there’s nothing wrong with that but as a story it wasn’t all that good.

Now what to say about Frank Miller? First off: I love his Batman comics – they’re gritty, they’re cynical, they’re balanced and well thought out. I’m not at all surprised Nolan used them for his awesome Batman trilogy. When you delve deeper into Miller’s world (300, Sin City) you start to see certain patterns though. Miller doesn’t like women all that much… Oh, he loves to draw them without their clothes on, which is probably the reason why most of his female characters appear to be manipulative whores, who’ll stab you in the back at a moment’s notice.

He really hates foreigners too, especially moslims, and although the Greeks are the heroes in 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire, I have no doubt they’ll be the cliched bad guys if he ever starts to think he’s been down on Italians enough in his Sin City series.

As you may know most movies are pitched with their storylines cut down to two or three sentences. Frank Miller’s stories are essentially pitches and nothing more. The only reason his scripts require more words is because he has to list the ridiculous amount of flat characters he needs to get his “story” across.

To give you an idea of Miller’s screenwriting prowess: he also wrote Robocop 2 and 3. Yeah….

Are there any actors in this film, i would hear you ask if i could actually hear you. Well of course, there are. First off there’s Sullivan Stapleton who seems to be expected to carry this movie. That was a mistake. You might remember Stapleton as Ryan Gosling’s buddy in Gangster Squad. He was good in that part: didn’t impose, had a few nice scenes, took a couple of punches by Sean Penn. As a leading man, he just doesn’t draw enough attention to himself – it’s like he’s not entirely there.

This becomes most evident in the scenes he shares with the two female leads, Eva Green and Lena Headey, both of whom are a lot cooler and tougher than he is. They seem to be playing the same part though, which is weird, because one of them is the good gal (Headey) and one of them is the bad gal (Green). Headey doesn’t have to do much here, just look mean and menacing and swing a sword in the end.

Green’s role is a bit meatier, although unfortunately it’s her sad lot to fill in Miller’s women-cliches: she’s a backstabbing, doublecrossing, mean bitch.

Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes gets to do what he did in 300: look menacingly into the camera and for some reason they brought back David Wenham for the part of one-eyed Spartan Dilios. I wish I knew why because the story really doesn’t need him – it almost seems like they added him on a whim: in one of the final scenes he’s CGI-d in.

What happens in the film is just meaningless really – the dialogue and intrige, such as they are, merely exist because the director and writers seemed to think there should be some pause between the action.

And the action? Oh man… 300 was a one and a half hour gay action porn film. Now I have nothing against gay action porn in itself – it’s a niche market and 300 filled that hole nicely (pun intended).

Rise of an Empire is more of the same: sweat glistening on muscular male torso’s galore. Intense comic-like close-ups on blood and gore. Really, we’ve seen all this before. Remember when you saw the second and third installment of The Matrix and you realised bullet time was really just a trick that turned stale fast? Rise of an Empire is like that. I’d seen all those close-ups and stills before, the blood, the screams, the explosions… and it wouldn’t be so bad if Rise of an Empire had anything else to offer. Sadly, it doesn’t.

300’s main selling point to me was that it looked good. It was crisp, it was bright, it felt compelling in all it’s cliched simplicity…

It’s sequel feels dull, bland and interestingly, like it was made with a fraction of the budget. I heard somewhere that someone hopes to make a sequel…. a sequel to what?


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