Thursday, 27 March 2014

300: Rise of an Empire (2014) Film Review

300: Rise of an Empire Poster
Title: 300: Rise of an Empire
Director: Noam Murro
Screenwriter/s: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad
Length: 102 minutes
Year of Release: 2014

300: Rise of an Empire a film directed by Noam Murro, and stars Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green and Lena Headey. It is a sequel to one of the more quotable war films of the past decade, 300, and takes place before, during and after the events that took place in 300. Sullivan Stapleton's character, Themistocles, leads his fellow Athenian men into a war with the Persian leader Xerxes, and his right hand woman, Artemsia.

300 is one of the most badass films you should ever have the pleasure of watching. It's was Zack Snyder's attempt at defining a genre, and he did that pretty damn well convincingly. This sequel is undoubtedly questionable, and at first seems unnecessary, after the success of the previous film; on the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, 300 just made it in with a positive rating (60%), and will forever be remembered as one of the best action films from the 2000's, not necessarily because it's smart and intriguing, like, say, The Dark Knight, but because of it's quotability and near perfect action. The use of slow motion hadn't been utilized in every Roman Empire styled action film prior to 2006 and 300's release, so at that point in time, you felt like it was a stylistic statement made by Snyder, instead of an overused feature. 300 helped this genre in film along by miles, and now films like 300 are popping up all over the place; just this year, we had a 300 wannabe in The Legend of Hercules, one of the worst films I've ever seen. It's use of slow motion during the action scenes was clumsy and poorly done, to say the least, and the CGI was all atrocious. Almost in answer, Snyder and Kurt Johnstad responded with 300: Rise of an Empire, a film that chronicles before, during and after the events of the previous film. We have a new director this time around in Noam Murro, a man whom I've never heard of before, unfortunately. Well, here's the introduction I was requiring! I can almost picture Snyder inviting Renny Harlin, director of The Legend of Hercules, to a private screening, just to show him how it's done, how to make a film like this work. Because despite 300: Rise of an Empire's faults, it's a damn awesome film! 

Let's begin with the action scenes. Faultless, no doubt about it. The first action scene is one of the best action sets I've ever had the pleasure of viewing. It's fast paced, has great use of slow motion, brutal kills, and some really spectacular CGI. The blood is a little over the top, as it was in 300, but that's only to be expected. It adds to the whole comical tone this film is trying to set, and by comical, I don't mean to downgrade the film; it is based off a comic by Frank Miller, in fact, as was the original film. From the first sword slash, you're hooked. I've never had so much fun watching people getting decapitated, and seeing blood fly; it's brutal fun! Some of the action does get a little repetitive though, unfortunately. There is probably one too many naval battles for my liking, and so at points, you happen to feel like you've seen this before. But for the majority of the running time, Murro keeps the action swift and entertaining, and never repeats himself too much, so it's not too much a problem. Special mention to the final confrontation between Stapleton and Eva Green's characters; it was an action scene which actually melded drama and brutality together perfectly, and capped off the film well. All in all, the reason people are going to spend money at the cinema to see this is for the action scenes; no one is going for character development! And I can assure you the action is brilliant, and will please any fan of 300, or action junkies in general.

The performances are actually fairly decent. Stapleton gives a solid performance as the main protagonist, Themistocles, and serves as a fantastic giver of speeches! His lines are certainly not as quotable as Gerard Butler's from 300, but that's to be expected, I believe. Seriously, you can not beat "This is Sparta!" It's just not possible! Eva Green is the standout for sure; she overacts to a certain degree, yet she has a raw intensity about her that makes for a fantastic antagonist. I love what Snyder and Johnstad managed to do with all the female characters in this sequel, including Green's character; none are simply helpless characters who need help from the bigger, stronger men. All can hold themselves in battle, some better than others, and it's good to see! Lena Headey's return to Queen Gorgo is a fantastic addition to the film, as she gives one of her best performances. She fits into the character perfectly, and commands her allies with fierce determination and range that I didn't believe possible from her. The ensemble as a whole is quite well molded, and all give decent performances. The thing that lets these performances down though, is the dialogue. It's not unbearable like the dialogue in The Legend of Hercules, it's just very poorly structured and predictable. The characters say whatever suits their role in the film, and never become anything more than what their exterior shows, apart from Green's character. Snyder and Johnstad provided shallow dialogue, that disappoints me seeing as we have some really talented actors and actresses performing. 

So much of the film is computer generated, it begged comment. Near all the backgrounds are CGI, and like 300, they never serve to look realistic. This is a common criticism of the film from critics and audiences alike, and I thought to address it here, seeing as I enjoyed this aspect of the film; the backgrounds are meant to look as if they are taken straight out of comic. As I mentioned before, this film and it's predecessor are based off of not only historical events, but a comic book, crafted by Frank Miller. Snyder, being a fan of the comic book series, has crafted a film which tributes the nature of the comic, that being that it's quite grim looking and never quite realistic. Unless you're criticizing the fact that this is a comic book film, and it looks in parts like a comic book, you shouldn't have valid reason to criticise the backgrounds; it's all intentional people! 

The dialogue is worse, and the action feels a little repetitive at this point, being that I've seen so many 300 wannabes in the past few years. But it's use of flashbacks to tell a considerable portion of the story, and the fantastic performances from the leads, Eva Green and Sullivan Stapleton, make for a pretty damn awesome action film. If you expect mindless action, you may well be proven correct in your assumptions, or even proven wrong; this could very well be more than what you want or expect coming into the theatre.

Junkie Score: 7.1
Worth Admission Price: Yes

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