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300: Rise of an Empire

March 7, 2014
300: Rise of an Empire

Back when 300 came out, it was not exactly an accurate representation of the battle of Thermopylae, historically speaking: there are the basic facts it got wrong, the puerile hypermasculinity, the attempts to project a jingoistic, American mythology onto classical Greece. But the single biggest historical failure was the way it completely ignored the parallel naval battles that were far more decisive in repelling the second Persian invasion of Greece. And to the extent that it addresses these battles, 300: Rise of an Empire is an improvement. Of course, to make up for getting one thing right, Zack Snyder and company proceed to get almost everything else wrong, and the result is an alternately boring and grating mess.

But before we come to the battles of Artemisium and Salamis, the story flashes back to double-down on how evil those swarthy Persians are. Not only was their first invasion of Greece repelled at the battle of Marathon, but Darius I was actually there, according to the movie. And the Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed him on his barge with an arrow shot from the beach, but didn’t then do the same for his son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Xerxes is, at this point, still “normal” — with the same masculine styling as most of the Greeks — but Darius’ general Artemisia (Eva Green) convinces him to seek revenge by recasting himself as a god-king. He is restyled into the depilated, bejeweled, and heavily made-up — in short, feminine — version we remember from the last movie, and launches the second Persian invasion.

About Artemisia: instead of the hereditary governor of Caria in what is now Turkey, she was orphaned and enslaved — because Frank Miller and Zack Snyder seem to know of literally no other way of developing a female character besides making her the victim of sexual violence — until rescued by a Persian who trained her in battle. And instead of leading five boats as in real life, she is the commander of the entire Persian navy. Artemisia is an utter non-entity, elevated here for the sole purpose of stripping Green naked in a sex scene with Stapleton that aspires to be as well-acted as those on late-night Cinemax, complete with her post-converted 3-D breasts.

But that scene at least engaged some sort of interest. For the most part as soon as the battle sequences end the entire film comes to a dead stop. What passes for story and dialogue is even more self-important speechifying than last time, doubling down on the transparent references to American mythologies of “freedom, justice, and democracy”, as if post-Enlightenment natural-rights democracy were anything but loosely adapted from the ancient Athenian version. It’s middle-school political theory for middle-school intellects and emotions.

Then again, the action isn’t really any more interesting. Bodies spin around with no coherent spatial orientation, lurching between fast- and slow-motion. Weapons swing, and with each slice and thrust a gout of computer-generated “blood” shoots out, looking more like a cross between paraffin and Kool-Aid than anything that came out of a body. Slap an instagram filter on the picture and call it a day.

Overall, this feels like nothing more than a late, cheap attempt to cash in on the unexpected monetary success of 300, and I have no doubt it will go over like gangbusters with its target audience. Nobody ever went bankrupt underestimating the taste of the American public, and this isn’t going to be the movie that changes things.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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