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Friday, 12 September 2014

300: Rise of an Empire.

300: Rise of an Empire.

I haven't actually watched the first 300 film.

Okay, that's not strictly true, I've watched it in the sense that the constant, omnipresent trailers and advertisements when it was coming out forced everyone to watch it and covered so much of its content that basically the only thing left for people who went to see it was the joy of seeing all those disparate clips put in order. But I've never actually sat down and watched the film.

Or read the comic, for that matter.

There are a few reasons for this, the biggest one being that everything about it made it painfully obvious that this was the worst kind of pandering to the sweaty teenage boy demographic, combining sweaty shirtless men as power fantasies with gay panic (Snyder has said outright that Xerxes is meant to be effeminate to play into teenage boys' homophobia) and neo-conservative politics that manage to be vague, anviliciously unsubtle, and deluded (ah, yes, three hundred men locked in desperate struggle – the perfect metaphor for the US) all at the same time.

(It's odd, really, that films which pander to teenage girls are so derided in pop culture, at best dismissed as being shallow and at worst derided with no small amount of screaming by people frothing angrily at the mouth about the inevitable downfall of cinema, and society itself, into pink fluffy girldom, yet films which pander to teenage boys are inevitably both as shallow and indulge in a great deal more harmful politicking, yet get lifted up as cinematic masterpieces.)

But now, at least, I have watched the sequel.

As you can see, there is no homoeroticism in this film.

300: Rise of an Empire, based loosely on Frank Miller's upcoming comic Xerxes, is a story that takes place at roughly the same time as 300, but focusing on an entirely different front of the war: The naval battles between Athenian Themistocles and Persian general Artemisia on the Aegean.

The events on which the film and comic are based are the Battle of Artemisium, in which the Greeks attempted to hold the Persian navy off at the Straits of Artemisium while simultaneously holding off a land invasion at Thermopylae (remember, despite what Miller would have you believe, it was not just three-hundred Spartans at Thermopylae – it was three-hundred Spartans plus a bunch more Greeks, totally about seven thousand), and the Battle of Salamis that took place shortly after. The Artemisium sections are very roughly accurate, with the Greeks holding their own against the Persians but not really winning, and eventually retreating after hearing that Thermopylae had been lost – although the film attempts to frame this as part of a master plan, and not just retreating on account of the loss at Thermopylae making a victory at Artemisium worse than pointless.

Because this would have happened anyway.

The Battle of Salamis is rendered nowhere near as accurately: The historical battle, noted as being a very confusing affair in which several people, including both an Athenian general and Xerxes himself, became confused as to which ships belonged to which side, involved the Greeks luring the Persians into a very small straits between the mainland and Salamis, leaving the Persian ships so densely packed together that their ability to move was greatly reduced, while the Greeks formed in line and took advantage of that. The battle in the film is mostly framed as a suicide mission in which the Greeks rammed the Persians so that Themistocles could have his appropriately heroic moment storming Artemisia's ship, and so that there could be a Big Damn Heroes moment from the Spartans.

But that's fine, historical accuracy isn't really what people want when they watch historical films. Let's just talk about the film on its own merits.

…. Eh.

I didn't hate it, I suppose.

I liked the masked dudes.

I caught more than a few attempts at Witty Political Commentary that basically amounted to Zack Snyder nudging me in the ribs a few times and whispering 'Vote Republican.' I can't, Zack. I'm not American. I probably should have been annoyed at these attempts, but they usually came so out of the blue and were so absurdly over the top ('When did negotiating with tyranny do a free nation any good?!' Sullivan Stapleton yells before practically winking at the camera) that I was still in a state of alarm and bewilderment by the time they had passed, and I – remain in that state, because the amount of delusion required to conflate the US and early democracy Greece boggles the mind.

Mostly, though, it was just boring. Which isn't surprising, I suppose: Like 300, this is a film aimed at the sweaty basement-dwelling fourteen year old boy from Texas demographic, and as I've noted before, everything aimed at that particular demographic is dull.

Nothing in this film could really compel me to care, mostly because I didn't care about any of the characters. Its two most prominent – and now that I think about it, only – female characters come closest to actually being interesting, with both Eva Green and Lena Headey putting on superb, nuanced performances as Artemisia and Gorgo, respectively. There were brief moments when I actually felt the first timid beginnings of an emotional reaction towards them. But then they passed, and I was back to being bored again.

Pictured, one of the only interesting characters. Also, Themistocles is there.

(There was a brief period of discomfort when Artemisia receives Themistocles on her ship. Long story short, it's a scene that reeks of Zack Snyder digging his elbow into your ribs and whispering “Gaggin' for it, eh? She wants him so bad. Women, eh? Gaggin' for it, eh?” Apart from stretching believability, because Themistocles is charisma-less, balding and slightly doughy, it was also really uncomfortable and incredibly misogynistic.)

So with only two characters making up the bright spots in an otherwise very grey and bland film, what else is there to even say? The CGI is very pretty, one supposes, but it won't be sticking in my memory for very long. The music was serviceable. I watched it without wishing for death, although I profess that towards the end I was more than ready for it to be over – and at one hour forty minutes, it isn't a long film at all.

Feels longer.

Feels a lot longer.

Either way, I don't intend to take another foray into this corner of pop culture any time soon. It smells of Lynx down here. Lynx and sorrow. 

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