The original film, as insanely over-the-top as it is, contains a complete cinematic thought. The scruffy Spartan uprising against Xerxes’ Barnum & Bailey-meets-Fellini army of masked freaks has a definite beginning, middle, and somber end. Furthermore, I couldn’t imagine a follow-up film without the wolfish charms of Gerard Butler, whose career skyrocketed and pretty much abruptly ended with the first film.
Well, color me wrong. Make that sepia-toned … like the now-cliched, slow-to-fast-mo cinematography in both flicks.
300: Rise of an Empire still plays astoundingly loose with world history, turning the establishment of Greek democracy into some kind of kinky gladiator orgy of violence, sandals, and pompous speechifyin’. But it’s a lot of fun too, and does supplement nicely the narrative established in the first film.
Childishly gory and with a script that sounds like it was written by 25 monkeys left alone in a room with computer keyboards and Kirk Douglas’ Spartacus, the film is nonetheless stylish and entertaining … imagine Ansel Adams photographing the International Male catalog with production design by Fritz Lang and Hot Topic.
Sullivan Stapleton, looking and acting like Michael Fassbender’s messy brother, is perfectly fine taking the reins from Butler, as an Athenian general fomenting revolution … or something. This film is a welcome change in that it finally gives the women a chance for some serious ass-kicking as well. Spartan queen Lena Headey (so good in 2012’s Dredd) and Persian naval commander Eva Green (Casino Royale) – both such interesting presences – continue their mid-career runs of b-movie foolishness … this time colliding (quite literally) in the same film. Green particularly seems to have an absolute ball being a complete fiend, ratcheting up her smoldering seethe from the box office flop Dark Shadows.
And, yes, Rodrigo Santoro returns as Persian king Xerxes – basically RuPaul’s 8-foot tall, gilded, steroidal, homicidal cousin with a vocoder voice. He is a hoot to watch – character nuance and historical accuracy be damned. Junkie XL turns in a suitably thumping, anachronistic genre mash-up score to propel the zany proceedings along.
I suspect the filmmakers intend some half-baked metaphor for American democracy’s uphill climb against the dark, anarchic forces of some ill-defined Middle Eastern enemy. The movie’s British-accented, lily-white Greek (?) armies of waxed, Soloflex men in Speedos and capes warring against swarthy, monologuing, power-hungry, fabulously-bejeweled Persians can at times be laugh-out-loud ridiculous. This not-so-subtle subtext coupled with the weird mix of homoerotic homophobia and sexist feminism makes for a stomach-churning brew. But as long as you check your brain at the door when you’re issued your IMAX 3-D wraparound BluBlocker sunglasses, you’ll have a good time.
Reel Roy Reviews is now a book! Please check out this coverage from BroadwayWorld of upcoming book launch events. In addition to online ordering at Amazon or from the publisher Open Books, the book currently is being carried by Bookbound, Common Language Bookstore, and Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room in Ann Arbor, Michigan; by Green Brain Comics in Dearborn, Michigan; and by Memory Lane Gift Shop in Columbia City, Indiana. Bookbound and Memory Lane both also have copies of Susie Duncan Sexton’s Secrets of an Old Typewriter series.