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300: Rise Of An Empire (2014)

I realize that 300: Rise Of An Empire is about 1,000 years off the topics of my usual posts, but I'm a sucker for sword and sandal flicks, I had some profound thoughts about it, and so here we go.

When watching, I kept thinking, "Why was this film made?" while simultaneously telling myself that the stand of the 300 Spartans (and 1,000 other guys who never get any credit) at Thermopylae wasn't the whole story, that at the same time the Athenians were engaging the Persian fleet at Artemisium and Salamis.  What I really meant, I think, was, "Why did it take seven years to make this sequel?"  Actually, that is a pertinent question, because the special effects/idiosyncracies that wowed people in the original 300 have since became cliches.  The excessive blood spatter.  The slo-mo leaps and turns.  The mix of slo-mo and real time.  Spartacus: Blood and Sand and its spin-offs used these effects well, but other films such as The Legend of Hercules have given them a bad name.  Now it's laughable.

And let's face it, Sullivan Stapleton (Themistocles) just can't hold a candle to Gerald Butler's Leonidas, but not for lack of trying.  He isn't given much to work with; his love-hate relationship with Artemisia is frankly ridiculous.  Well, Artemisia herself is all-around ridiculous.  Eva Green seems to be having great fun hamming it up, but why do the Persians put up with her nonsense?  Why don't her officers mutiny when she starts killing them?

The Athenians aren't as well defined as the Spartans, and the film doesn't serve the culture of the Athenian city-state very well.  300 worked because the plot suited the peculiarities of Spartan society.  The real Spartans wore armor, yes, but in Classical Greek art heroes are often depicted naked or nearly so; the film's leather briefs and ripped muscles and manly grunting behind the shieldwall say a lot about what the Spartans think of themselves, just as Xerxes' golden Speedos and chains and entourage of women and freaks says a lot about what the Spartans thought of the Persians.  The film's wall of corpses and splashes of blood and brooding skies scream "Sparta!"  It's all about manliness and courage and the beautiful death Greek heroes craved.  That same aesthetic doesn't work with the Athenians at sea, because it doesn't convey a sense of Athens as a culture.  Half the time, I couldn't make out the biremes and triremes against the darkness of the storm-tossed waves.  I felt nothing when the Persians firebombed the Athenian ships, or when Themistocles was hurled by explosion (without a scratch on him) into the sea.

See this movie for the visuals, stay for the awesome animation of the closing credits, but don't expect the quality of the original.

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