‘300’: Fall of a franchise
Kevin Noonan | Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Another problem with it is that if the first movie is a big enough success to warrant a sequel, there’s a good chance your stars, director and creative team will move on to bigger and better things, or, at the very least, other things.
One final problem with sequels to action-heavy, plot-thin, stylistically-awesome movies is that it’s wildly difficult to repeat that success a second time because what’s awesome once is almost by definition less awesome a second time.
Some films overcome these struggles and turn out as equally-awesome sequels. “300: Rise of an Empire” does not.
The whole film, which was screened Tuesday at Chicago’s Kerastoes ShowPlace ICON Theatre ¾ shoutout to the A.V. Club for the promo ticket ¾ looks and feels like a cheap knockoff of the 2007 original from start to finish. Without the stylistic, if imperfect, direction of Zack Snyder, or the cheesy brawn of Gerard Butler or even the thin “Spartans crave an honorable death” motif that lent some meaning to the first film, it’s not even a fun cheap knockoff.
The sequel provides both background information and context to the original film as well as following up Leonidas’ death with the resulting battles fought between the Greeks and Persians. The film spends a great deal of time setting up the story of Themistokles, a great Athenian general and an actual historical person. While the historical context is somewhat interesting and, with a quick Wikipedia search, at least somewhat close to accurate, the film invests too much energy in a back story for a movie that people came to see because of the sword-and-shield clashes and blood and gore.
Speaking of blood and gore, the loss of Snyder is felt strongly in this sequel. Both films are inspired by acclaimed graphic novelist Frank Miller’s “Xerxes,” but only the first remains true to his dark, hyper-realistic and exaggeratedly bloody style. Miller’s influence and trademark visuals are on full display in the first “300,” a look moviegoers may recognize from another film based on a Miller graphic novel “Sin City.”
The sequel relies on more cartoonish effects and dark colors, as if trying to reimagine a reimagining of Miller’s style. The result is a lot of gray, a lot of smoke and some weird, 2004-videogame-style gore. Like I assume of most people my age, I’m pretty desensitized to images of extreme violence in movies, for better or worse, and even if it’s an odd reflection on movies that I’m more put-off by the poorly-done violence than the violence itself, the fact still remains.
The characterizations in “300: Rise of an Empire” leave something to be desired as well. In fairness, the characters in the first “300” were essentially one-note ¾ Gerard Butler was honor; Lena Headey was strength and loyalty; Michael Fassbender was a death wish; all the other Spartans were courage in the face of death. One-note characters that they were, at least they had a note, something that apparently got cut from the budget in the sequel, with one exception.
Eva Green plays Artemisia, a Greek-turned-Persian warlord and commander of the Persian navy. Green embodies the role wholly and with more intensity than any other actor in the film. She kills with reckless abandon and drops icy death threats with a fearsomeness unmatched in most English-actors-as-an-historic-race-of-people films.
But even her character comes with a caveat that troubles the film ¾ she turned her back on the Greeks after being raped and used as a sex slave by Greek soldiers for her entire childhood. It is a backstory mentioned in passing and left undeveloped for the rest of the film. It is also, somehow, not the only casual use of implied or simulated rape in the movie.
On the surface, I can kind of see what the filmmakers are doing ¾ most historic epic films tend to brush over the more horrifying aspects of war and violence, especially towards women. But just sort of throwing that point on the wall a couple of times throughout the film without really giving it any depth or examination makes me wonder if maybe “300: Rise of an Empire” is the right film to broach that subject.
There are enjoyable moments in the film, with some of the naval battles playing out impressively, even if the whole thing looks like it was stolen from the “Blackwater ” episode of “Game of Thrones.” For the most part, the movie just kind of exists for an hour and a half before sputtering out in an attempt to set up a third film.