This weekend I was blessed (well cursed and then blessed) to go see two movies at the theater: 300: Rise of an Empire and Non-Stop.
300: Rise of an Empire (2014) – Rated R
“Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.”
“I will attack the Greeks with my entire navy!” (really? because while that might seem logical, she just ends up sending them in a few at a time)
One Line Review: More is not better.
I loved 300 the book. It was a wonderful fantasy retelling of the battle of Thermopylae by Frank Miller. Thankfully he copied one of my favorite lines into his version as well:
“Our arrows will blot out the sun.” – “Then we will fight in the shade.”
Miller had just the year before seen his masterwork Sin City series adapted into an incredible movie by Robert Rodriguez, while retaining all the flavor and art of the comic. 300 was turned over to director Zack Snyder, fresh off the impressive remake of Dawn of the Dead.
Snyder slavishly followed Miller’s narrative and brought to life the graphic novel. The only real difference was a subplot in the film involving Queen Gorgo, presumably to help offset the almost entirely male cast. This subplot is rather ridiculous but it’s hard to argue against with the topless, abbed-up Spartans facing off against giants, a rhinocerous, and elephants and building walls of corpses.
300 was bombastic and filled with homoerotic scenes yet strangely has a line dismissing Athenians as “boy lovers” but I digress. 300: Rise of an Empire is based on Miller’s follow-up to 300, Xerxes. There seems to be no listing for it on Amazon and I have not read it so I’m not sure whether to place the writing blame on Miller or screenwriters Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, both of whom wrote the 300 screenplay.
All of the same writing team are in place, the remaining actors reprise their roles, CGI has improved in the eight remaining years, what went wrong? The story of Themistocles is a fascinating one and would make for a great film. Unfortunately this one is ridiculous – Themistocles was not the hero of Marathon and most certainly did not kill Darius (who did not die at that battle in any case).
Ignoring that they don’t even come close to telling the story of Themistocles, 300 Rise of an Empire has the Spartans repeatedly refusing to aid the other Greeks, which is not only ridiculous but contradicts the ending of 300. Themistocles repeatedly requests their navy – they essentially didn’t have a navy. Sparta was a land power and the training of their people into elite warriors shows this but in 300 Rise of an Empire, it appears as though Sparta has more warships than the entire Greek fleet put together.
Much as I love Lena Headey in anything, her storyline here is even more farcical than in 300. In the movie, she rules the Spartans after the death of Leonidas and even commands their troops. Say what?
Lena Headey does have to take a backseat to Eva Green as Artemisia. While I enjoyed her over the top villainy, it was perhaps a bit much to dress her in fishnet (oh how I wish I were kidding) for some of the battle scenes. Someone else apparently thought better of it because it appears and disappears in different takes towards the end of the film. Please don’t get me started on her sex scene. All I will say is that there was quite a bit of nervous, uncomfortable tittering in our theater though I was too busy rolling my eyes.
Also a note on tactics – if you have fireships and a close, circular formation of Greek ships, perhaps you should lead with that. Artemisia also apparently has Navy Seals. /groan.
Obviously Zack Snyder thought this was a workable formula – take 300 and ramp to 11. The music is louder but not better, the deaths are gorier but become comically so, there are more rape scenes (seriously), more blood splatters the screen but it looks faker, it’s in 3D (though I watched the 2D version), everyone shouts or growls their dialogue.
Honestly I could go on for another thousand words detailing the absurdity of this film but it is still number one at the box office.