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Sunday, March 9, 2014

300: Rise Of an Empire

No need for a roundup this week, as this is the only other film I've seen of this week's meager selection. I missed the screening for the Grandmaster (general reaction: pretty but lame) and Winnie Mandela wasn't press screened for critics, was filmed four or five years ago and looks to be a cheaper version of Long Walk to Freedom so I wouldn't exactly hold my breath for it being any good.

Speaking of not being any good...

Zack Snyder's adaptation of 300, Frank Miller's Dark Horse graphic novel, was a stylish, deliriously goofy take on the Ancient Greek legend of the three-hundred Spartan warriors that alone kept overwhelming Persian forces at bay. It was dumb, it was corny and it was, of course, one of the most homoerotic action films ever made - which is really saying something - and it garnered for itself quite the fan base. This was 2006, after all, and Frank Miller hadn't quite burned his good name entirely (unless you happened to be a major Batman purist, at least) with his own risible adaptation of Will Eisner's classic pulp-strip The Spirit and, worse yet, by showing himself to be a fascistic, far-right-leaning nutball.

Now, however, with The Spirit having been expunged from the memory of all who saw it and Miller himself having dropped almost entirely out of the limelight completely - his far-right manifesto/ comic book, Holy Terror, was met with consternation and vilification but I don't think anyone actually bothered to buy the blasted thing - it makes sense that the two more successful Frank Miller films have finally gotten their long-awaited sequels. Miller himself one again joins Robert Rodriguez as co-director of the very, very long-gestating Sin City sequel, A Dame to Kill For, which will finally be hitting our screens in a few months. But first, we get this: a completely unneeded, pointless followup to 300, based on the unfinished Miller graphic novel followup, Xerxes.            

There really was nowhere to go with the 300 story considering that - SPOILER - the eponymous heroes had all died by the end of the film, which means that Rise Of an Empire is less sequel, more addendum to 300. It takes place a bit before and a bit during the events of 300 and it involves a lot of fighting and oodles upon oodles upon oodles of boring backstory, delivered in expository, uber-portentous voice-over that was funny last time but it seriously grating here.

I was never personally a huge fan of 300 as it was never really my thing, but I understand why it's as well liked as it is. I cannot however, for the life of me, understand why anyone would give this dreary, boring nonsense a second thought.

To be clear, so bored I was while watching the film that I came very close to giving this film the dreaded one-star rating but, to be entirely fair, there are a couple of things that saves Rise Of an Empire from the lowest depths of crap-movie hell. First, it looks cool. Sure, cool in a totally artificial way that often feels more like a video game than a film or, for that matter, a comic book but cool just the same. It would be a lot less tedious if someone took the best bits and just made a five minute video-art project but, fair is fair, no one in their right mind would suggest that this looks like just another action film.

The biggest (relative) saving grace of the film, however, is Eva Green as the film's snarling, sexy, camp and deliciously evil baddie, Artemisia. Not only does she look like she's the only one having any fun with this preposterous material, her character is the only one that is even remotely developed beyond being a paper-thin, albeit very well-built, cut-out. She totally overshadows the film's alleged primary villain, the quite crap Golden God, Xerxes and as she is the only character with any, well, character, I ended up rooting for her over the alleged heroes of the piece - but most especially Captain Bland himself, the film's apparent protagonist, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton). Whether it's beheading her own cronies for looking at her the wrong way or giving her all to the most hilariously silly sex scene to grace our screen in many a moon, she elevates the film to the laughably demented z-movie that it should have been in the first place.

Sadly, every minute Eva Green is not on screen, the film quickly descends from z-movie to zzz-movie. The film has next to no plot whatsoever, has some howlingly crap dialogue and is laboriously paced to the point that I was absolutely certain that its 90-odd-minute running time was somehow actually three times as long as The Wolf of Wall Street's breezy three-hours. Even the action scenes disappoint once you get past the cool video-game aesthetic as they are as overlong and uninvolving as watching someone else play a video game for hours on end.

Also, whatever you might say about the hammy acting of the first film, it's certainly a hundred times better than the wooden acting that inflicts everyone save for the delightful Ms Green. Even Lena Headey, who is so brilliant as Cersei Lanister in Game of Thrones, never manages to get past her annoyingly under-written character or the truly dire narration she gets stuck having to deliver over the course of much of the movie.

I can't believe I'm saying this but where's Zack Snyder when you need him. The pulpy world of 300 is clearly way out of the wheelhouse of Israeli director Noam Murro, whose only other feature film work to date was the sardonic indie drama, Smart People. He simply doesn't have Snyder's way with big-budget b-movi-

Actually, you know what, scrap that. Not only is Snyder responsible for co-writing this "script", his most recent directorial efforts were the equally ghastly Sucker Punch and the decidedly un-Super Man of Steel. Forget Zack Snyder and forget this utter turkey of a movie. Don't worry though, that should require absolutely no effort on your part whatsoever.

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