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'300: Rise of an Empire' all abs and entrails

Movie a cartoonish orgy of buff bodies being hacked apart


This article was published March 7, 2014 at 2:19 a.m.


The God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is back to cause trouble for legions of buff Greeks in 300: Rise of an Empire.

The latest entry in the Zack Snyder School of Implausible Physics Series actually features the work of one of his acolytes, director Noam Murro, heavily influenced by Snyder, the CGI master of style and witless spectacle over substance. It must be said that, as a director, Snyder, who settled for producing and co-writing the screenplay this go-round,possesses a keen visual acuity. Unfortunately, it is the kind of acuity such that all physical laws and immutable truths must bend to his vision: You will witness supremely fit men going into battle in a raging sea wearing nothing more than a Speedo and a leather arm-band! You will thrill to severed limbs flying past, explosions of coagulated CGI blood spattering as if dropped from a great height! You will see a moon so large against the dark night horizon that it dwarfs the sky around it! Everything is given this heightened - some might say cartoonish - potency to mask the other universal truth of Snyder’s films: His scripts are often empty as a conch shell.

This film isn’t exactly a sequel, at least in the sense of it being sequentially removed from its predecessor. Indeed, much of the action of the film takes place exactly during the time of the first movie, only instead of the mighty, ferocious Spartans throwing their rippling, bare midriffs at the giant armies of Persia, it’s the rest of the Greeks, led by Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), a fierce warrior in his own right, whose attempts to rally the other city states to help defend Athens from the slithering horde fall on the mostly deaf ears of their political leadership (perhaps the one element in the film that seems plausible).

Themistokles and his ragtag army are pitched against the giant military force of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the bronzed, self-titled god-king, and his naval leader, Artemisia (Eva Green, one of the film’s few highlights), a fearsome warrior herself, taken to kissing the lips of the severed heads of her fallen foes. She leads a formidable armada of ships to Greece’s shores, but takes heavy losses in the early going due to the clever tricks of the badly outgunned Themistokles, who has onlya trickle of a navy and an army mostly consisting of farmhands at his side. Eventually, as these things tend to do, the smaller skirmishes lead to one massive battle - technically still at sea, but with all the ships so clustered against one another, it allows for endless, bloody hand-to hand combat routines.

And through it all, Murro’s overwrought CGI-filmmaking enhances every stroke of every blade - battle scenes are shot like Nike commercials, utilizing super slo-mo pulses for every gory kill shot: Geysers of blood and fallen body parts litter the decks of the ships in a pulsating orgy of savagery. With a casting call straight out of the pages of Men’s Fitness (forget swords and-sandals; this series is all abs-and-entrails), nary a torso is exposed without a healthy six-pack. It’s like one of those gruesome spring break sex comedies from the ’80s, only instead of bikini babes splashing in the waves, there’s an endless parade of heavily Bowflexed bohunks, sharpening their sword blades.

This is dopey history as conceptualized by a pimply-faced 14-year-old with his drooling face stuck in the pages of a Frank Frazetta calendar (the very audience this film is attempting to appeal to - even though, with its heavy R rating, they can’t go unaccompanied). For them, the incongruences and stunning neglect of basic physics - explain to me how it helps Themistokles, in the climactic battle scene, to suddenly have a horse to ride over the burning planks of the ship? - are all part of the inescapable, over-the-top nature of the franchise. Obviously, Snyder and his minions aren’t the only ones making ridiculous action pictures, but this somehow seems less idiotic and puerile in, say, a martial arts film, which also might suffer from nonsensical physics but doesn’t often purport to represent a history lesson in the process.

Not everything Snyder touches turns to creosote, of course: His version of Watchmen was about as faithful an adaption as you could have hoped for from a Hollywood contingent that has never quite understood the genius of comics writer Alan Moore, but that’s a rarity in his catalog. The look of this series is based very strongly on the art of comics legend Frank Miller, created for his original 300 graphic novel some years ago - many shots in the first film were directly taken from his explosive, dark-hued panels- but there’s only so much you can take, in 3-D no less, when everything is reduced to such bloody bombast. Snyder’s style is so blown-out and brainless, it’s as if you’re watching an extended, hyper-violent commercial for bodywash.

Still, with its extreme gore and deeply imbued homoeroticism, I suppose one can take solace to see the disparate poles of the film’s intended audience - adolescent boys, older women, and gay men with a disemboweling fetish - finding such blood-soaked common ground together.

300: Rise of an Empire

78 Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey Director: Noam Murro Rating: R, for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language Running time: 102 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 03/07/2014

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