The comic book movie season is almost upon us, but first we were treated to 300: Rise of an Empire (ROAE). I know the review is late but it's here nevertheless, spoiler-free just in case some of you'll haven't managed to catch the film yet. Is this sequel to the 2006 hit 300 yet another glorified soft gay porno? Or does it attempt to rise above & beyond & become something more...? Read on to find out...
Apparently it seems like the makers of this film have taken to heart the heavy criticism the first film got- not only by way of critic reviews but also from the many spoofs it inspired. ROAE tries to be everything the first film wasn't. Let's begin with the male lead himself- Sullivan Stapleton, playing Greek general Themistokles. Compare him with Gerard Butler & the differences are glaringly obvious- Sullivan is tall, not having an overtly cut physique, but with a personality imposing enough to be believable as a general. No Greekish beard or hair. No thick accent. Kind eyes (unlike Butler's steely, fiery ones). Soft-spoken.
Basically a very relatable & approachable-looking character. This is the general image the rest of the actors seem to have in ROAE, which is a relief. No more is the focus simply on the greased bodies of the warriors but also the emotion & heart of the film. Unlike how in 300, a group of warriors standing in the background always looked like they would strike poses for a photoshoot with Madonna's Vogue playing in the background! This time there's even a scene in which Themistokles speaks in front of the council where he's, dare-I-say-it: Fully clothed! (>)
Now that we've gotten that out of the way let's speak of the director, Noam Murro, who takes the reins over from Zack Snyder (who has co-written this film). According to his IMDb page, Murro isn't really very experienced with the direction game. He doesn't stray too far from the visuals we were offered in the first film. The direction is competent, but as an audience you won't really feel like you're being offered anything new as such.
The story is pretty solid. Based on the as-yet-unreleased Frank Miller graphic novel Xerxes, the film starts with a flashback. We learn how Xerxes came to become the self-proclaimed god-king. It's also nice to see that Rodrigo Santoro gets to act sans-makeup & (lack of) costume so you can truly realize the way that power transforms him into an unrecognizable, ugly being.
The dialogues are very good this time around. And it's not just Themistokles or Gorgo who get to deliver some gems but other characters as well. The dialogues also don't hold back on the tongue-in-cheek lines, making fun of what various spoofs have laughed at- At one point, the Athenians are referred to as "muscle-bound boy-lovers". Also, there's some pretty provocative lines & cuss words this time around that will definitely get the laughs out of you.
Now the acting- Stapleton is competent as Themistokles. Sure, he doesn't leave as big an impression as Gerard Butler did, but he still lends well to the role & you find yourself rooting for this guy to win. Lena Heady & Rodrigo as Gorgo & Xerxes respectively are both returning cast members & seem to play out their roles well with ease. It's great to see Lena getting to work with a much meatier role this time AND also getting to kick butt as well.
However, the true highlight of ROAE undoubtedly has to be Eva Green playing the ruthless Artemisia. When she is first introduced you feel nothing but hate for her. It's only after her flashback story is unfolded that you empathize with her & understand where all her rage stems from.
Let's just say that abuse- no matter the form, or whether self-inflicted or from others- can drastically change a person & turn them into something ugly- a shadow of the person they once were & this holds true for Artemisia as well who falls prey to all the seven deadly sins because of it. This is the first movie where Eva has actually made me sit up & take notice of her. Her seductive dialogue delivery, the disdain & wrath she has in her eyes when she looks at the men under her command & her adversaries & the power with which she fights in her action sequences- all these together just make her a complete badass who grabs your complete, undivided attention.
The action sequences were good. Especially the whole scene between just the ships- Great dynamic & it definitely offered us something different on screen. Also the fight sequences with Artemisia are an absolute joy to watch. However my problem was that because of the 3D, sometimes with the close-up action shots, everything feels like it's just whirring past you. The only saving grace is that during the contact shots in a fight sequence (sword gets plunged into an opponent for example), the movement is stopped & then in slo-mo comes back to the normal speed. So you can keep track of what's happening at least thanks to that.
Finally the costumes. I can tell you'll are now thinking: "But what costumes? It's just all capes & leather thongs!" Well, I'm just talking about Artemisia's costumes. Brilliantly designed to reflect the mood of each sequence, they are absolutely gorgeous & Eva Green fills them out nicely. Let's look at some of them:
This (>) is one of the first costumes you see Eva donning in the film. Golden chest plate gives her an aura of royalty while the tassles are just something else! The dynamism they add to the costume is brilliant! Especially since it so happens that she has a lot of walking to do in this sequence.
Each of her battle sequences see Artemisia in different costumes too. Like this one (<). I absolutely LOVED it because that golden strip in the middle makes her look like a cobra ready to strike.
And then there's this final costume (>) that just oozes with badassery. Those golden dinosaur-like spinal spikes are amazingly hot & just add to the overall empowered ruthlessness of her character! Besides these there's also another costume (for which I couldn't find a good enough image online), that's just beyond sexy. One look at it & I at once knew: "Sex scene."
So what is my final verdict for 300: Rise of an Empire (ROAE)? Great story, competent acting (with some brilliant work from Eva Green), entertaining action sequences, good VFX all lead me to give this film a well-deserved 7/10. Watch out for my reviews on most of the comic book or graphic novel-based movies for this year. Especially, who's pumped for X-Men: Days of Future Past already? Huh? Huh...? Lol.