Monday, March 10, 2014

Movie Review: 300: Rise of An Empire

Directed by Noam Murro. 2014.

It's wisely observed that solemnity is a breath away from stupidity. Take, for example, the following pair: "The borders of Lacedaemon will mourn the death of a king descended from Hercules." vs. "The Greeks were betrayed by a hunchback." The former, reported in Herodotus, retains even in translation a sense of grandeur whereas the latter, written by Zack Snyder for 300: Rise of An Empire, invites chuckles. Now it may seem strange to begin the review of an action flick with quibbles about writing, but the movie was so heavily narrated and the action scenes so spectacularly forgettable that this 300 comes off as a drab, talky, slog.

In fact, I've forgotten all of the movie's sword-and-sandals action except for one part where the Greeks were fighting with big bronze axes. The highlight is of course the naval battle at Salamis, but an utter lack of environment dulls this climax. Without a sense of size, scale, strengths, topography, and geography, we're just watching activity in which any result is possible and therefore don't invest in the action.

I'm not at all opposed to set-piece battles and even whole movies revolving around one climactic brawl, whether The Two Towers or Waterloo, but you need to prepare the audience so we can wrestle with expectations and possibilities and, hopefully, engage the story. There are a few notable shots of ramming triremes, although the movie's best shot is of them still, and a great big Persian oil barge goes Exxon Valdez and then kaboom, but the action here is unremarkable.

The script doesn't redeem this 300 either, following up an interminable prologue by confusingly bouncing among 1) narration over Thermopylae, 2) flashbacks of Thermopylae 2) narration over Marathon, 3) Themistocles in the past trying to persuade the Spartans to commit ships, 4) Themistocles in the present fighting at Salamis, 5) Persian General Artemisia talking to Xerxes at various points in time, and 6) Artemisia fighting at Salamis. The plot is intelligible, but the sequence of events is confusing and enervates the momentum.

To its credit the script attempts to sketch two opposing characters in Themistocles and Artemisia, but it would be nice if it had ventured something beyond the fact that one loves Greece and the other hates it. The smoldering cool of Eva Green's Artemisia is the more interesting, but it wears over the course of even 100 minutes. She doesn't change or have any cause which might be refuted, and while she does bring about her own downfall, it's predicated off actions which are but hastily recounted, neither taking place during nor developed in the movie. Themistocles on the other hand is flat and dull. In truth I can't recall a thing he said. And then the two knock boots on Artemisia's barge because Zack Snyder is writing the script.

Given how much the film leans on Spartan Queen Gorgo's narration and how she's driven for vengeance like Artemisia, the two women should have been cast opposite instead of Artemisia and Themistocles. Since I can't resist speculating...

You could give parallel arcs to the two wronged women in which Gorgo, who lost her husband to a cause she didn't believe in, achieves justice in contrast to Artemisia, the victim of rape, who is consumed by her desire for vengeance. Then you could oppose Themistocles and Xerxes, in which beside the obvious theme of liberty opposing tyranny, Xerxes could chide Themistocles with the taunt that the fickle Athenian mob will turn on him. That would have been something.

I appreciate that both 300 flicks tried to flaunt a brash bravado and an unapologetic purity of purpose, but if a film's going to be so simple it needs to be flawless to be effective. The alternative is an adolescent mishmash from which we walk away stolid instead of stirred, hostile even to a scant script that can't support cheesy dialogue, lackluster pacing, flat acting, and dull, clumsy visuals. To be fair, I enjoyed bits of 300, but it's a shame such a source should yield anything so terribly forgettable.


  1. Hey, I think you would like the video game Fire Emblem. It's based off of Medieval Times with references to Ancient Rome, such as mentioning gods, naming the main character of the original game after Mars, and even a song in Latin. The latest game is called Awakening and is for the Nintendo 3DS. If you do not purchase the game, at least read about it or something of that nature and write a review on it.
    Gratia ago!

  2. Thanks for the heads up and your comment! I've been considering a video game review for some time and that sounds like a good contender. Who can say no to a Latin song?