Tuesday, 11 March 2014



I'm happy to stand up and say that I liked 300, Zack Snyder's CGI-laden heavily fetishistic retelling of the Battle Of Thermopylae with little concern for scrupulous historical accuracy and much emphasis on legions of near-naked Spartans with sculpted torsos wearing nothing but sweat and leather skimpies, bellowing and laying waste to thousands of Persians. An army of Brian Blesseds from Flash Gordon, only much noisier and more ferocious. Eventually there had to be a sequel, though it's actually more a sister piece, with events taking place at much the same time as 300 but with no Gerard Butler. And while Snyder isn't the director (just a producer and co-writer), it's essentially more of the same with a similar look and feel to it and a similar fascination with big manly men with their nipples out and proud.

300: Rise Of An Empire recounts the Battle Of Salamis, in which the Persians are still invading Greece and brilliant Greek commander Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is tasked with stopping Xerxes' approaching fleet. Themistokles' backstory here is that years ago he could have killed Xerxes in battle, but chose not to, and has regretted staying his hand ever since. On the other side is Artemesia, the Persians' naval commander and Xerxes' right hand, who is also on her own personal quest for revenge....

Yes: the major development here is that the villain is a woman, thereby increasing the number of significant female roles to two, since Lena Headey is back as Queen Of Sparta providing a hefty novel's worth of backstory and historical context in voiceover. Better still, Artemesia is played by Eva Green, so far over the top she can no longer even see where the top used to be. It's a spectacular piece of overacting so ripe it would be thought excessive in a pantomime for the deaf, but she gives the film a much-needed contrast from the cardboard Greeks: for all their musculature and astonishing fighting techniques there's no character to them. Lots of shouting, grunting, dismembering and dying nobly, but none of them are faintly interesting as characters.

Mysteriously this has all been entrusted to Noam Murro, whose sole feature credit so far is the intellectuals comedy Smart People: it's a little like hiring Woody Allen for a Fast And Furious movie on the strength of Blue Jasmine. But in the event it looks pretty much like 300 anyway. The whole thing is CGI'd and green screened into oblivion (and post-converted into 3D), with monsters, tidal waves and exploding barges left and right, and most of it in slow motion. All the blood spurts are unconvincing CG which look drawn on afterwards, presumably because that's what they look like in the Frank Miller comic strip even though they look rubbish on film. Even the simplest shot of two blokes on a beach is drenched in that strange soft focus that makes it look like it was shot in a beige sauna, with CG dust and ash floating artistically in the misty air. Spectacular, sure, but by the time the FX bods have been at it it has no more relation to the real world than a vintage Daffy Duck.

I'm no admirer of Snyder: I enjoyed his take on Dawn Of The Dead even though the George Romero original is one of my all-time favourite films, but Watchmen, Sucker Punch and Man Of Steel form a steep downward trend of visually flashy emptiness. 300 was a great one-off mix of homoeroticism and ludicrous cartoon violence, so merely doing it again seems pointless. More of the same, only less: it's entertaining enough in its headbanging, bludgeoning way which I definitely enjoyed, and Eva Green gives it major welly, though eventually it does get a bit wearing.


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