Get out your stout wooden ships and rock hard Athenian abs, we're reviewing 300: Rise of an Empire!
King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and all of Persia are threatening to conquer all of Athens, with his ruthless general Artemesia (Eva Green) invading with her naval fleet. It's up to Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) to rally Greece to come together as one nation and push the Persian army back!
"We open on a shot of a woman's breasts as she's pulled away and raped by a couple of dudes." I kind of want to be in on the meeting where some guy sells THAT as the opening shot of the movie. Y'know, so I can spray him with a water bottle and go, “NO! BAD MOVIE EXEC!” So that's problematic; rape scene in the first five minutes of the movie. Oh, but don't worry! I hear you going, "But Josh, if they get the rape out of the way now, does that mean they won't have any time for rape later?" Fear not, because later, when they're going over Artemesia's backstory, they show her watching her mother getting raped and murdered, and then Artemesia's presumably raped for years until she's a teen and finds some guy who decides on the novel idea NOT to rape her. So, yeah. That's her backstory. That's in the first half of this movie. You’ve got some rape to look forward to.
But it's not ALL about rape. This isn't The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There's also lots of fighting! Tons of fighting! Fighting on boats, and with horses, and arrows, and spears, and more boats. Wow, so much fighting, you guys. Full disclosure: I almost fell asleep halfway through the movie. The first half is a confusing mess of backstory, exposition, and slow-motion fighting. So much slow-mo. It feels like the director is on that drug from the movie Dredd. I don't remember there being this much slow-mo in the first 300 movie, even though that was its whole deal. I actually liked the first one, because it had this interesting pace with slowed-down action, then a speed-up, then another slow-down. It was a really novel technique at the time. But here, it's just slooooooooooooooooow all the time. And since it's mostly the same brand of fighting you've seen in the first 300, and basically every ancient action movie since, you can check out for the first half (conveniently skipping over all the rape bits!) and not miss anything exciting.
Then halfway through it picks up with a not repulsive or rape-based sex scene, and then some fighting that's not boring. The film definitely has a stronger end than it does a beginning. It felt like it had the same pacing and story progression as 300, except this time there was a hopeful ending instead of a downer one. So not all of the fighting is recycled from 300 and is actually captivating. I don't think it holds up stylistically to the first. They tried to carry on the legacy of blood splatter. Blood spillage everywhere. Great big gobs of blood. And the ending titles are nice! 3D cartoony graphics made to look like comic book prints. Sometimes the cinematography really shines – there’s one particular continuous shot of Themistokles riding a horse across ships that stands out in my mind. But mostly the overabundance of slow-mo makes the movie look like it's just full of itself.
Y'know, I don't want to be too harsh on it because in theory, I like this one better than its predecessor. The first 300 was about very masculine men being the only thing standing before the might of evil. Manly Men Doing Very Manly Things in a Totally Not Gay Way. But with this one, the women have the power! Artemesia basically makes Xerxes herself and controls him like a puppet and Eva Green plays her with great ferocity and intensity. She's such a good villain and she's perfect in exuding her sexuality without being hyper-sexualized. And on the side of good, we’ve got Lena Headey as the queen. She doesn't get a lot of screen time, but she holds all the power in Greece's redemption. And when she finally gets to cut lose, she's just as ferocious as any of the male warriors, and doesn't bother putting on armor. So, yay! Warrior women!
Eva Green is definitely the highlight of the movie, but Stapleton is enjoyable in his role, too. And Santoro as Xerxes? Um – well, he definitely walks around and scowls a lot. I don't think you come here for the acting. You mostly come here for the blood and the hunks. There are so many hunks! Plenty of man-candy to feast your eyes on, if you're into that sort of thing. Lots of sweaty pecs and thighs, nips and abs and beards! Tons of furry beards. Not a lot of man butts though. That's surprising. So you're welcome, lovers of sweaty men. Don't worry, there are a couple of boobs thrown in there too. Because why not.
So. This movie. It's hard (like Spartan abs), because I want to give it a pass for the awesome women characters taking charge, but I also can't get past the reliance on rape that definitely doesn't need to be there at all. It feels like it should be better than 300 but it's not as stylistically pleasing or entertaining. It's more of the same, at best.
THE GOOD: Some good action, some interesting shots, badass women characters, lots of man-candy, good sex scene.
THE BAD: Unnecessary rape, action gets boring, confusing beginning, same pacing as 1st movie.
THE VERDICT: $$$ The rape scenes really kill it for me. Completely unnecessary. But even without that, it's not that special an action movie. Maybe see it for the badass female characters, maybe wait until it's streaming so you can skip the first half.
MOVIES LIKE IT: 300, Immortals, Sin City, The Spirit, Gladiator
ONE-SCENE METAPHOR: Artemesia's origins. It's really cool to see how she becomes this badass warrior who is unrivaled in battle. It's significantly less cool to see her watch her mother get raped then have Artemesia get raped and beaten for years. Oh, you think that's fine for proving she overcame some great circumstances? Would they EVER do that for a male warrior? When's the last time a male warrior/hero overcame being raped as part of his backstory? Honest question. Stop requiring rape in a badass woman's backstory. Just cut it out.