300: Rise of an Empire
General Information :
Opened: #1 3,470 Theaters
Current Box Office Numbers: 43% Critics 70% Audience Approval
Metacritic: 47% Metascore, 6.5 User Score
Editorial Background & Biases:
I have a passion for visually stunning hyper-stylized war-porn. I’m not sure if this term has been referenced or coined. If not, I’m stating it for the masses. Especially when experiencing Zack Snyder’s work which has a certain signature for this type of film-making. I also have a passion for popcorn flicks, and adaptations of graphic novels. Walking into this movie, I knew I would have a general bias because of Snyder, and because it is a follow-up to the original 300 film which blew my mind then, and I suspected would blow my mind now.
That said, we have a natural expectation for visuals and special effects. We are a people so accustomed to heavy duty CGI, we are bored with it. Gone are the days of marveling at a screen as we did when we first viewed films such as Star Wars for the first time, sitting in our favorite marquee theater during the 70’s. Our cups are full, as it were.
Movies like this present an interesting escape into a fantasy world, one not intended to be broken up into factual material. But simply a pleasure that has roots in mindless popcorn flicks with some old world flair; as such were my expectations.
This film is reminiscent of the story-telling style of George R.R. Martin. Not in terms of how the wordsmith would put together speech and narrative, but in how he cuts up a storyline from varying character perspectives, and intermingles it into his books. This film is itself a narrative of the events leading up to 300, as much as its story walks alongside the original film from the perspective of its principal characters. Eventually leading to the merging of past and present and strolling into the next chapter for our Spartan and Greek friends alike.
The film has an exceptionally strong use of flash back narratives, as did the original. Retelling stories of the principal characters, reliving their tales that both lend to their glory as it haunts them in their struggles in the narrative.
The duality in Themistokles’ victories as are his follies is on equal level to Leonidas and his men. Showing the earliest sparks leading up to the events of 300 and lending proper background and character development for our main antagonists in this film.
There are some odd moments where special effects meet narrative in a manner that breaks the fantasy and experience of the film. Specifically, I encountered this during a scene with Xerxes and Artemisia speaking where his stature was evident and towering over hers. The actors point of reference was slightly off to where Artemisia was likely standing in green screen, and it is extremely apparent that the scene was shot in green screen. For a few moments it almost felt like Ms. Green was filmed in front of a large screen, similar to old films shooting driving scenes in front of a large projection screen.
Some of the fight choreography was oddly lackluster and not really following through on expectation. However this is a minor twinge in this review because I eventually noted (in my mind) that these are not Spartans. They are not nearly-perfect fighting machines seeking beautiful deaths. They are not weaklings either, but of course the fighting styles and movement should be disparate from what we got out of the original film. A point that is plainly and forcefully demonstrated by Lena Headey’s character, Queen Gorgo. While Themistokles was nearly as much of a juggernaut as Leonidas, he is the main focus behind the most amazing of fighting scenes; as opposed to showcasing other Greeks equally as the original film had done for Spartans.
Some of the acting was awkwardly superfluous, and could have been cut down, but flat characters are needed sometimes and you almost need to see the original film to fully enjoy this one. While it is essentially a sequel, all things considered, it requires a variety of input from the first film to close any gaps in the storyline. I noticed that if the original is not fresh in mind, there would be extreme gaps in the narrative. Simply because it relied heavily on a variety of flash backs and scene changes that were jumped to at various points in the film.
Personally I dislike having to rely on the original film to completely follow the current one I am watching. A general knowledge of the original should be enough to follow a sequel. However, because so much is inter-weaved, as mentioned above, a-la-George R.R. Martin style, it may have a lack of control on how to bring forward all the elements it required to weave every aspect together properly.
When the story focused primarily on Themistokles, who becomes the most important figure across the entire storyline, as the spark, the film remains pure and complete. Especially with the added crossover character that is Artemisia on a tragic level. But because of this fact it is almost like what my own writing partner calls "a breach of contract between storyteller and the audience." Leonidas is almost an institution, and as much as the story heralds his grandeur it is slightly diminished by the revelations of this film. Revelations that are necessary but may dismay some audience members. Especially when coupled with some strange character flaws in Queen Gorgo as revealed later in as the story comes to climax.
It is a popcorn flick. It is a wonderful fantasy film, spun from the overly exaggerated tales of glory as defined by a period in history through a people that crave beauty in their deaths. It may only contain about 1% truth as its canvas, but the painting revealed was absolutely breathtaking.
Virtually every actor in the film played their roles marvelously, while some critics consider this a hurricane of pretty ways to extract blood from film characters, and a hyper-stylized ballet with permission to splash Michael-Bay-levels-of-exploding-blood everywhere. It is a wonderfully epic and picturesque film that is played fancifully by its actors.
Artemisia’s love scene is equally as titillating as it is frightening. It is one of the most strange and forceful love scenes in recent memory to end all others. Prior to this, the same statement could have been made of Halle Berry in Monsters Ball, and images of Lars Von Trier films creep into mind. As far as fantasy-epics go this is the love scene to measure all others against. It not only gave you a beautiful scene, it personified Greek tragedy, brought to life the epic tales of want, loss, life, and death all in one singular moment. This is something most of us would never expect; an Oscar-Worthy scene in terms of the acting performances. Yet, such a performance from such a simple scene indeed we did gain.
The ending of the film is beyond inspirational, not from battle cries, but from grandiose overtures of love, loyalty, and vengeance. While to some degree a morsel of history was plucked for this narrative. Tales of valor and glory are always spun from the merest of rumor, from whispers. That is what this film felt like. I was uncertain, from the moment the Spartans entered frame on their ships, with the narrative being spoken by Gorgo If to otherwise cheer, cry, or jump and applaud. That is what makes a movie great, the emotional response. Especially to be overcome in such response as to not know how to react.
What Might have Hurt This Film…
The awkward fact that most audiences will disconnect from the film in a way that causes them to harp on the lack of perfectly-formed god-like bodies as were evident in the first film. If they realize that these are Greeks, not Spartans early on, then the disconnect may not affect their viewing experience.
Some of the awkward visual effects that were utilized to aid in the scale of the characters and the ridiculousness in the combat can pull you immediately from the fantasy. You may marvel at some of the insanity, or you may balk at what you are seeing. 300 delivered grandiosity into its combat scenes by fixating on individuals and then showcasing displays of horrors and valor altogether in moments. This film while doing the same, did so with extreme close-ups, and with more of an edge on the camera-style. It’s noteworthy to see the difference because Snyder didn't direct, but some of his signature choreography is visible in the new directors style of displaying combat movement.
This is a film to be felt, not rationalized; it is pure fantasy with an amazing flair for Greek tragedy and story-telling. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, despite a few moments where I thought the special effects hurt the scene. Whether it was effects or editing that missed the problem, those few scenes did not hurt the film enough that I did not enjoy what I was watching. All of the characters were interesting and had amazing parallels to various counterparts from the original movie. While I’ve seen 300 many times, I can’t say others have and this may affect some viewers that have not seen the (2006) 2007 film.
The battles were grand, the heroes were somewhat legendary, and the villains were interesting. However this film demeaned Leonidas and Xerxes to some degree. It became more a story about Artemisia’s revenge and Themistokles’ penance. It left a great opening for a final installment to close out for a trilogy and was absolutely worth the $16.50 for an IMAX and DBOX seat…I missed my press access showing which is why my review is late, woe is me…
I give it a 4 fantasy film geeks out of 5 loving it. It is not a perfect 5 simply because my emotional attachment is still going to be with the heroic Leonidas and his brave 300 (which by the way historically was actually 1200 men). Also because it requires the first film, it cannot stand alone, it relies on the first for background. But it was such a wonderful fantssy-epic for me that I had to give up a higher score
Have you seen 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE yet? Are you planning to? Did this review help you? Do you agree, disagree? I want to hear from you! Comment, share, tweet, pin, whatever tickles your fancy. Form some words @EmanuelFCamacho