Saturday, April 5, 2014

New ‘300’ Raises Eyebrows, Lowers Expectations

Greece fights the Persian Army, Bureaucracy And Itself in the visually compelling 300: Rise of an Empire

ON CONTINUITY

ARTH VADER (AV): Those wacky Spartans are at it again, Pontificator. This time, the kinsmen of the ‘brave 300’ are rallying to overcome invasion, inner turmoil and a lackluster screenplay in this all-new tales of Sparta installment. The film does deviate from the original as it does NOT focus primarily on Sparta. All of Greece is under attack by the powerful Persian horde that vanquished King Leonidas and his 299 ‘body guards.’ How faithful this film is to the actual invasion of Greece by Persia is a discussion left to much more scholarly folk than I, but the bonding element is the threat of Greece falling by subjugation to Persia. 

THE PONTIFICATOR (TP): I looked for continuity errors Vader, but could find none. I’m not saying there aren’t any, I’m just saying that I looked…and if there were some, I missed them due to having action overload. This film takes place before, during and after the first, meshing seamlessly with the overall story (as far as I could tell). It’s really a companion film showing the events of the first from another point of view. I didn’t expect Sparta to take center stage since, well, the 300 died in the first film and since I have some cursory knowledge of history, I knew the Persian invasion involved all of Greece. 

CASTING, DIRECTING AND ACTING

AV: Some of our surviving favorites return like Leena “I’m still queen Gorgo” Headey and dreamy David “One-eyed Farimir” Wenham. Lest we forget the raining champion of so-what villains, Rodrigo “Tullio” Santoro as Xerxes. I won’t lie, though Ponty, this movie played a bit funky for me. Sullivan “Gangster Squad” Stapleton headlined as the likable noble warrior-leader Themistocles. Israeli-born director Noam Murro continues the near 100% CGI look of 33:RoaE. While the lighting is graphic novel-quality and stunning, it all just felt a little too… fake. I can suspend disbelief quite a bit, but this movie just asked a bit too much. Pontifcator? 

TP: The film moves along very quickly, but you would never know it by all the action crammed into it. Ask anyone how long the film was and most will say to was much longer than it actually was. Usually when a film seems longer than it is, it’s because  they cram a lot of stuff into it.…and trust me when I say this one was packed. The acting was great for what I was expecting to see, unexpectedly superb particularly with Eva Green making her mark. Her character was the sort you simply could not afford to blink, turn away from the screen, or in any way miss what she was doing. I found Sullivan Stapleton to also be a surprise and was the perfect counter to Green in their battle of wits and guile. 

SPECIAL EFFECTS

AV: The film’s first-rate effects were masterful if not erring on the side of the stupid. Over-the-top gore is not new but the amount of blood gushing from each vengeful slash and gash is just comical. The land and cityscapes were fine (all-3D rendered of course) but the real visual victory here were the sea warfare scenes. Tense, beautifully shot and well realized, for me this was the “why” of this movie. 

TP: IMAX 3D was invented with films like this in mind, Vader. Without a doubt, if you go see this film, there is no other way to see it than IMAX 3D. In the first film, we were treated to the next level in fighting sequences…new ground was broken. I’m happy to report that once again, the next level has been reached, and new ground is broken again. I’m at a complete loss as to how they did it (well, not really. They did everything from the first film, but added omni-directional camera angles embedded in the action) and can only wonder just what can possibly be done to top it in the next film…or any film following this one that dares to have fighting scenes. I could have saved myself some writing if I had just said: Simply incredible. 

TAKING A DEEPER LOOK

AV: Not sure this film lived up to the sequel of 300. I enjoyed the visuals, the gladiatorial-style blood-letting, the revenge-driven actions of both sides. But, there was some misfires here, too. First, the movie is almost COMPLETELY devoid of Spartans, the very group whose defiance led to this conflict enveloping all of Greece. Second, the film is almost entirely based on the open sea and the impossibly small number of Greek defenders hold out against a massive sea-borne armada that covers the ocean. Next, (Spoiler Alert!) Xerxes escapes! Really? Shutting him down shuts down this whole conflict. Are we trying that hard for a third film? Ugh. Lastly, speaking of Xerxes, his whole quickie origin was so shoddily handled, we should have been given an entire stand-alone movie of his beginnings. So close, Hollywood, so close… 



TP: No matter how deep you go, you will always come back to incredible and abundant action and special effects. I didn’t walk into this film saying show me the Spartans. I walked into the film saying show me the action…and I got it! Trust me, I saw it twice already. Even with all of that going for the film, they were able to squeeze in the origin of Xerxes assault on Greece, the origin of Xerxes, and the origin of Artemisia. They even managed to squeeze in a sex scene (at least I think it was a sex scene). With tremendous sea battles, it just speaks volumes of this film to have been shot entirely in a green room…and never once on the water, the main environment of the film. I was absolutely flabbergasted to learn this. The next level in filming has been displayed, and it comes broad chested holding a sword.

ON SEQUELS

AV: It is likely this movie, though not entirely deserving, will see a third installment to round out a trilogy. If that happens, the merits will still rely largely on the success of the first film. Still, all said, I am a sucker for this genre and Frank Miller’s original 300 (graphic novel) is a certified graphic novel masterpiece. I could do without the angry sex sequence though. 

TP: Sequel? I hope so…I really hope so. The first film ended with the Spartans leading the rest of the Greeks into a massive ground war with Xerxes forces. Since that scene didn’t happen yet, I’m hoping to see that sequence in a third installment. 

RATE IT!

ARTH VADER rates 300: Rise of an Empire: This movie had it’s moments but we are living in the age of the sequels and prequels. While hardly a worthy predecessor to the first 300 film, Rise of an Empire does satisfy, somehow. The action is shoveled at us from the word go and is full of cool but relatively forgettable combat action shots. Still fun, and even though I feel gypped for seeing this flick in 3D (so not worth it) the overall experience is a good one. And thus, I hack and slash at six (6) busted blocks and I am left standing in a sea of heroes’ blood. (Eww.)

THE PONTIFICATOR rates 300: Rise of an Empire: With new ground being broken in effects and fighting sequences, this film surpasses the first one, and with an Athenian being the main character, that says a lot! I’ve 3D IMAXed myself to this film twice already, and am certain there will be a third showing in my future…it’s just that good. Without any reservations, this film cleaves nine (9) bloody blocks, for the freedom of Greece.












300: Rise of an Empire: 7.5 / 10 Busted Blocks

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