300: The Rise of an Empire (Rated R, 102 minutes)
Words cannot fully describe the train wreck that is this prequel (or sort of sequel). Everything that works with the original is thrown out the window for this visually driven mess; and it looks like I have my first candidate for Worst Film of 2014. Now unlike 300, this film follows the Athenians and not the Spartans: automatically, this film loses the charisma of the Spartan warriors. With that said, 300: Rise of an Empire follows the Athenian general Themistokles as he tries to hold the Persian Navy back; coincidentally, this naval battle takes place at the same time as Leonidas’s fight at Thermopylae.
Now, most of the motion picture takes place on the water, which would be fine if the final product did not look like a CGI riddled mess. It is bad when the visually driven 300’s CGI looks tame compared to the sequel. But again, though the visual style of the original is palpable, at least it had the decency to look stunning. 300: The Rise of an Empire looks atrocious through its runtime; what is worse is that the terrible CGI is needed in every shot. I am not saying Zack Snyder is the world’s greatest auteur, but at least he made the original’s imagery gorgeous.
Furthermore, people always say that water is the hardest image to animate or create; and never has it been more evident then in this movie. For a film that takes place entirely on water, the terrible animation is a distracting eyesore. And the CGI problems do not stop there; entire armies are computer generated. Instead of hiring a hundred extras for certain shots, the director makes the entire army CGI, which looks terribly phony. On top of these horrible images, for some reason the movie uses these computer generated soldiers in close combat scenes, which makes the small highlight of the motion picture look weak. I actually like the brute strength shown in these few close combat scenes, but again, the aforementioned hokey computer generated soldiers mar this bright spot. For instance, the immortals from the original are now completely CGI characters, which begs the question: how hard is it to shot a real person with a mask on? The only comparison for this CGI is how fake Neo looks while flying in the Matrix sequels: the main problem is that those graphics were good in 2003 and seems dated now.
Now I did not go to the original 300 expecting Shakespeare, but at least, the material of the original is better than this. The dialogue is so bad that the audience was constantly laughing throughout. But again, I can ignore the terrible dialogue if this had coherent action scenes. However, one can clearly see that this film was not shot by an action director; constantly during the battles, the camera shot prevents the audience from seeing anything.
Furthermore, these naval battles are said to be massive, but the audience never gets an establishing shot to show this. The size of the battle is important to show how hopeless the Greek’s situation is. Instead, the audience watches a few Persian ships get destroyed and listen to characters like Eva Green’s Artemisia talk about losing seventy ships. In more contained stories like the original 300, which take place in a small restricted area, this limited scope makes sense; but in a large scale naval movie this style does not work.
Speaking of Eva Green, she is the only saving grace of the film, but even her performance ranges from fun to downright awful. Yes, she does the best with what she was given; however, sometimes her performance becomes a little too cartoony for my taste. The lead actor Sullivan Stapleton, who is famous for the Strike Back series, has nothing to work with and his only good lines are used in the trailer. Now beside them there are side characters that no one cares about because they are not properly developed or introduced. Several times the audience is supposed to feel emotion for a character’s death, but instead, the audience feels ambivalent because their sub-plots are simply uninteresting. The worst part is how the movie teases the audience with brief glimpses of Leonidas; this made me long for Gerard Butler’s charisma, which would have brighten this very dull movie.
Last, even the non-war scenes are terribly acted and directed; these scenes seem like a short montage that attempts to get back to the action as quickly as possible. Majority of the time, in an action film that is the right move; however, before the final battle the director gives little explanation to why the characters are making these mind-boggling bad decisions. However, this has little to do with the actual scenes and more to do with the failure of establishing said characters. And if the writer and director have not established a character by the end, then the film has multiple problems that cannot be fixed.
As anyone can see, this movie is consistently problematic throughout its 102 minute runtime. Not only is this bad but everything in 300: Rise of an Empire fails miserably. And sometimes it is fun to watch a train wreck, however, in the case of this sword and sandal epic it left me constantly checking my watch.