300: Rise Of An Empire (2014) – Review

THIS!  IS!  …Ordinary.  Very ordinary.  When Zack Snyder’s 300 hit theatres a few years ago it was akin to a cinematic breath of fresh air.  Perhaps it lacked something of a compelling script and suitable garb for its eponymous warriors, but as an action movie it was exciting and inventive, something you talked about and wanted to go back to, and once more sought to expose Snyder’s true colours: that he’s an extraordinary visual talent but fumbles over himself on the page.  That being the case, there’s an immediate source for Rise Of An Empire’s many problems: Synder is back on co-writing duties, but he’s offered up his director’s chair to a relative newbie, Noam Murro (whose only other credit is a low-budget indie comedy), and as such, everything that made the first film great/unique/interesting is lost.

I can’t recall ever seeing  a director so afraid to call their own shots.  Murro, skilled as he may well be, scuttles around trying to piece together a terribly lacklustre script like he thinks Snyder would, rather than with his own vision and style.  Usually, even if a film is directed badly, there’s at least a sense of dignity in knowing the director directed their way.  If they’ve tried their hardest to put their vision on-screen, told the story the way they wanted, regardless of the result there’s something admirable in that.  As the old parental adage goes, “I don’t mind if you don’t win, as long as you try your hardest.”  Yet Murro not only doesn’t try his hardest to make his own film, it appears he’s not really trying at all, and there’s a huge sense of disappointment in that.  You would feel that if the studio, knowing Snyder’s visual exuberance would be gone, had chosen you to replace him, there would be a reason for it.  They clearly want you to lend your vision to the film, not just copy the guy you’re replacing.  I’d rather see Michael Bay’s two and a half hour version with 3.5x more explosions per minute than the one by the guy who’s trying to make somebody else’s film.

He isn’t entirely helped by the incidental, plodding pace of the script, nor the fact that it’s just doing exactly the same thing as the first film.  In essence, it’s the same story, the same characters and the same dynamics.  The whole father/son thing, as seen in 300, is back only with the roles reversed, and it’s bleeding obvious what’s going to happen there whether you’ve seen the first film or not.  Thermistokles, our protagonist, is basically supposed to be Leonidas (he even does the kick), but Aussie actor Sullivan Stapleton completely lacks conviction and screen presence.  The big speeches he delivers before battles are tired and waning, and the battles sequences themselves are pretty much the same, only this time on the ocean and far less exciting.  There’s a big problem when you’re watching a huge naval battle, in terms of scope, budget and the screen in front of you, between the Greeks and the entire Persian army with a kick-ass soundtrack, and you’re not interested one jot.  What has to go wrong for that to happen?

Rise Of An Empire is nothing like as fun as it needs to be.  The occasional moments of enjoyment can’t be denied, but they come few and far between.  Eva Green as Artemisia, the wicked commander of Xerxes’ Persian army, is the most constant source of pleasure.  Her seductive, piercing stare, fearless brutality and effortless command of not only said army but every frame she graces deserves a much better film, only it never really threatens to give her one.  You’ll witness the rise of an empire but a distinct lowering of spirits.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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