Review: 300 Rise of An Empire

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Title: 300 Rise Of An Empire

Release Date: 7th March 2014

Directed By: Noam Murro

Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Lena Heady, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O'Connell

Rating: 15 - Contains strong bloody violence, strong sex and sexual violence

300: Rise of An Empire is a prequel/sequel of sorts to 2007's 300, taking place before, during and after the events of that film, this time exchanging the arena of sand and rock for the unforgiving and unpredictable sea. Based on Xerxes the unpublished graphic novel prequel to 300 by Frank Miller, we see Athenian Naval general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) on a mission to unite all of Greece against the invading Persian army, ruled by the King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) who has, in a pact with evil forces, become a god...Themistokles just so happened to shoot the arrow that fell Xerxes father, so there's no love lost here anyway.

Director Murro has gone for full out epic-ness with this blood soaked battle film, emphasising themes of war through character beautifully; Xerxes quest to avenge his fathers death at the hand of the Greeks is to be expected but the lust for retribution that spurns on the amazing Artemisia who is actually Greek born is an interesting element reflective of more recent cases of modern political terrorism like suicide bombers. All the soldiers speak of honour and patriotism and leader Themistokles' rousing speeches reinforce this but it is actually the smaller moments and relationship between father and son Scyllias and Calisto (Callan Mulvey and Jack O'Connell) that push the message so effectively:
"A mans responsibility is to protect his family and his nation"
"Who told you this?"
"My father"
While I enjoyed O'Connell's performance and he was convincing in his earnestness, his regional accent threw me and weakened his credibility as the rest of the cast were aristocratic in their pronunciation.

Like the first film, the Frank Miller graphic novels strongly influence the visual style of the film and there is a video-game flair to the editing - lots of sudden zoom ins and outs and 180 degree spins, almost as if the audience are controlling the view themselves with a remote. I had the pleasure of attending a Universal screening of the film at the Imax and can definitively say the 3D aspect enhances the film tenfold. The film tends to alternate between slower, more dialogue heavy scenes and frantic action scenes peppered with slow motion but the 3D enriches both whether it be ash floating in the air as the soldiers camp down or blood and sweat flying out at you as the swords are swung and sliced through the air and flesh, horse hoofs on the battlefield look like they are about to stomp on your head.

Cinematography wise there are very obvious colour schemes running through the film, with golden yellows signifying Sparta whenever the film heads over there to Spartan queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) or the sun soaked Persia but the majority of the film takes place out at sea with moody blue and grey tones. The divisions of war are made clear for an audience by simple wardrobe choices; red robes for the Spartans, blue for the Athenians and black and metal body armour and masks for the Persian warriors, with their god King Xerxes looking like molten gold and Artemisia their vicious leader clad in tight black leather with metal accents, smoky black eyes adding to her evil smoulders.
Sonically, Eastern sounding pan pipes and chanting sounds help to place the film geographically and the grunts, groans, yells and screams were a little over the top but to be expected in a huge action blockbuster such as this. I was also rewarded with a few Spartan 'Awoooga's' from the original 300.

The success of strong female characters in popular series Game Of Thrones in which Headey stars perhaps inspired writer Zack Snyder (who wrote and co-directed the first movie) to infuse the film with such feminine dominance. Spartan Queen Gorgo is actually not vital to the storyline yet she is used as a narrator and the beginning and end of the film, in fact leading her Spartan soldiers with her emotive storytelling.
While Stapleton is charming as the good guy, down to earth leader complete with honourable inspiring speeches he is entirely outshone by his enemy Artemisia (Eva Green). Green is magnificent as the malevolent and ruthless Artemisia; her icy coldness, killer instincts, skill with a sword combined with utter bloodlust ensure she steals the whole show. Artemesia is desperate for an equal having tired of excelling at leading her army and isolated in her brilliance, therefore she is turned on by Themistokles' demonstration of power and intelligence which leads to some of the best scenes in the film, the sexually charged fighting between the two electrify the the screen.
Green also has the best one liners..."If death comes I'm ready" and my personal fave "You fight harder than you fuck". Vengeance is her ultimate driver and for one of the main characters to be such a central part of the film is a pleasure to see, in a Hollywood where female characters are still so underrepresented.

Shanika Says: An action-packed violent fantasy film, stylistic slickness wins out over characterisation but it is still a blood soaked visual success. In cinemas this Friday 7th March.

Rating: 3.5/5 ***

My very own warriors!
* All images sourced from Google

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