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The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Critic’s Corner: ‘300: Rise of an Empire’

    When I first saw “300” back in 2006, I loved it. A lot of that probably had to do with the fact that I was 16. The hyperstylized violence, explicit content and stunning set pieces were a dream come true for my high school self. And, despite being totally outlandish and even a bit offensive, the film created a new method of delivering action that other films have tried to mimic.

    Whereas the original film basked in its pulpy style and unapologetic bloodshed, “300: Rise of an Empire” feels like a low-budget tag along, possessing almost none of the original film’s innovations or fun.

    The events of the new film coincide with those of the original. As Leonidas defends the hot gates at Thermopylae against Xerxes’ forces, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), the hero of Marathon, wages a war at sea against Persia’s massive naval forces. His fight brings him up against Artemisia (Eva Green), Xerxes’ death-obsessed general.

    The first film worked because it was fresh. In an industry where action films are often pumped out at a tireless seasonal pace, “300” showed that the genre could still be revolutionized if directors were willing to take risks with their stylistic choices. But the new movie doesn’t add anything to director Zach Snyder’s original vision, and actually fumbles by bringing no real acting talent to its efforts.

    While Gerard Butler’s Leonidas was pleasingly gruff and violent, Stapleton’s Themistocles is almost completely forgettable—a note that rings true for just about every actor in the film. The Spartans in the original were fun to watch because they were so excessively violent that you couldn’t help but applaud them, even if their bloodlust was horrifying in its own way.

    But director Noam Murro’s version lacks any of the charisma of the first film’s warriors. Instead, it swaps the exhilarating fight sequences of the first movie with bland naval battles and copies the slow-down, speed-up fight sequences without any of Snyder’s style. When he isn’t cutting off limbs or severing heads, Themistocles spends most of the film giving bland, half-hearted speeches about democracy and the threat of Persian tyranny.

    Stapleton could have taken a few notes from the movie’s only real standout performance, Green’s vicious portrayal of Artemisia. Watching Green appear in a variety of gothic outfits and mercilessly slaughter her enemies are the film’s only saving graces. If the other characters had given themselves up more abashedly to their roles, the film may have been a worthy successor.

    Another misfortune is that the script is constantly trying to force Themistocles and Artemisia into an awkward romance, one that seems to exist simply because the characters are a heterosexual man and woman. This culminates in a weird, violent sex scene that borders on rape.

    The movie’s aesthetic qualities also fail; whereas “300” was fresh because of its many iconic moments, the new movie never delivers more than a lot of limb-slicing and gratuitous death in a drab color-palate. The iconic images from the first movie, like the Spartans, in profile, kicking enemy soldiers into the sea, have no true equivalents here.

    If you’re really in a pinch for an action film, “300: Rise of an Empire” might be worth your time. Relative to the season’s other action flicks, the movie isn’t altogether unlikable. But, if you’re looking for something as enjoyable or revolutionary as the original, better to pass this one up.

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    Sheldon Costa, Author

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