Directed by: Noam Murro (Smart People)
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, Lena Headey
Zack Snyder’s original 300 (2006) was an absurdly macho sword-and-sandals epic that mixed casual homophobia, racism and blatant jingoism. Snyder’s over-reliance on slow motion and green screen work was enough for the trailers to label him a “visionary,” and the film’s success was enough to keep his career afloat after multiple flops and box office disappointments. Tangentially, it perhaps marked the low point of Internet commenting, with rabid fans taking exception to every negative review, while Rotten Tomatoes commenters questioned the great Andrew Sarris’ masculinity.
All of this was eight years ago, which, amongst other reasons (like most of the cast dying in the first movie), makes Noam Muro’s sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, all the more puzzling. After numerous stylistically similar films and Snyder’s own diminished returns, I’m not sure 300 has aged all that well. Rise of an Empire, didn’t convince me otherwise. While the more troublesome, even amoral aspects of Snyder’s film have been removed, it’s still pretty dull, and the story is confusing. Moreover, the film is just dumb — in a genuinely tone deaf, obliviously stupid sort of way. It’s also still pretty jingoistic, yet throws a corny remix of Black Sabbath’s distinctly anti-war “War Pigs” over the end credits.
In practice, the film runs parallel to the original 300. Here we have the shirtless, beefy Athenian army — led by the patriotic Themistokles (Sullivan Stephenson, Animal Kingdom) — battling a crazed Persian general (Eva Green) and her naval invasion. The Athenians, who were denigrated as “boy-lovers” in the first movie, are butch enough here to satiate the picture’s bloodlust, though they are less buff and beefed-up than the Spartans of Snyder’s film. They also shout less. Like its predecessor, the true purpose here is to throw together some overly directed, arty battle scenes. There’s nothing original or unique here, and the direction reeks of hackishness. The action sequences quickly feel repetitive, consisting of too much phony, gelatinous-looking CGI blood. Any sense of fun is sucked out by the movie’s dour, self-serious tone. The only moment of levity is an unintentionally hilarious and incredibly childish sex scene, a particularly stellar bad decision in a film full of missteps. Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language.
Showing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.