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New Release Review - 300: Rise of an Empire

Sequel to Zack Snyder's 2006 hit.

Directed by: Noam Murro
Starring: Lena Headey, Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro, Eva Green, Jack O'Connell


The story, what there is, of 300: Rise of an Empire runs mostly parallel to the events of its 2006 predecessor, making Noam Murro's film what some have called a "sidequel". Prior to those events, however, we see a condensed origin story of the first movie's antagonist, Xerxes (Santoro), who mostly just lurks in the background here, like a Gold lamé painted backing dancer in some camp Vega revue. This time out, the film's villain is Artemisia (Green), a Greek woman who has been raised by Persians after one of their tribe rescued her from a life of sexual abuse, and who now leads the Persian fleet in their invasion of Greece. Out to stop them is a rag tag band of Athenians, led by their general, the oddly Aussie accented Themistocles (Stapleton).
Reviewing films denies me the luxury of walking out of a movie that I find particularly loathsome. It's a freedom I sometimes pine for, but I don't believe you can honestly write a review of a film if you haven't stuck it out to the end, as painful (often physically so in the case of 3D, if, like me, you find it tough on your eyes) as that can sometimes be. A case in point is the upcoming Aussie thriller, Mystery Road. After an intriguing first act, I felt the film lost its way and I was beginning to find it quite dull. Had I walked out at that point I would have missed one of the most impressive set pieces I've seen in the last few years, a climax that completely redeemed the film and transformed the embryonic review in my head from a "don't bother" to a "seek it out".
Were I not watching 300: Rise of an Empire for review purposes I would have been making for the exit by the film's midway point. Of course, I stuck around to see if, like Mystery Road, it would somehow pull something out of the bag and redeem itself. It didn't. The movie got progressively worse and sank me into the sort of deep funk that Michael Haneke can only dream of inflicting on his audience.
2006's 300 is one of my least favorite movies of the last ten years, partly due to its ugly aesthetic, but mostly because I found its fascistic, mean-spirited world view so troubling. The film's "heroes", the Spartans, were a particularly reprehensible lot, and it seemed the only reason proffered by the film-makers as to why we should empathize with them was down to the fact that they looked more like "us" than the Persians, a crude exploitation of post-9/11 bigotry.
With the sequel, the Persians are once again the "baddies", but what's even more troubling is the character of their leader, Artemisia, a role played with relish by Green, the film's one ray of light. We're shown through a rather tasteless montage how she was abducted as a young girl and repeatedly subjected to years of sexual abuse, fueling her lust for revenge. Doesn't this sound like she should be the one we empathize with? Positing Artemisia as the film's antagonist turns the movie into a sort of reverse rape revenge flick. Think of I Spit on Your Grave, if the film's structure asked us to wish for the rapists to "finish the job".
A dated aesthetic that fools you into thinking you're watching a promo for an upcoming rugby match, dialogue a 12-year-old wouldn't inflict on his GI Joe's (I kid you not, a supposedly rousing speech culminates with the line "Better to die on our feet than live on our knees") and an overall seediness that will have you rushing for a post-screening shower, make 300: Rise of an Empire one of the most grueling cinema-going experiences you'll have all year.
2/10


Eric Hillis

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