Frank Miller’s ancient foemen are back with more body-shaming, booty-maiming, self-absorbed hijinks. There will be CGI blood!
Go tell the squeamish, thou who passest by / That here, disobedient to the history, we lie. (with apologies to Simonides of Ceos, the Greek poet.)
THERE’S history, and there’s the movies’ version of it, which is usually closer to hysteria.
To put it bluntly, this film’s account of the decisive Greek-Persian navel – oops, naval, all those six-packs threw me off for a bit – engagement, 480 BC’s Battle of Salamis, is pure baloney.
But really, there isn’t much room to care about inaccuracies during 300: Rise Of An Empire’s 100-plus minutes of stylised carnage. If you watched and loved 300, Zack Snyder’s 2006 bulgy-thewed action epic, then just settle in and savour this one, which has a whole lot more of the same.
The difference is that there’s also a little more character definition this time, hokum though it be, most of it centred on Eva Green’s character of Persian nav...al commander Artemisia.
From being merely one of Persian emperor Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro reprising his role from 300) numerous navy chiefs in real life, she’s elevated here to not only the supreme commander of his seagoing forces but also the power behind his ascension to the throne. And in a reversal of roles from the historical account, she’s the one pushing for the climactic naval engagement instead of him.
Green is by turns commanding, bewitching and downright terrifying as the ruthless, revengeful Artemisia, and darn it, since they were going to mangle history anyway, the filmmakers should have just made this a contest of wills and might between her and Sparta’s Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, another returning face from 300).
After all, they both have the best lines, the most earnest delivery and the most magnetic presences in the film.
In contrast, the “dominant” male personalities – Sullivan Stapleton’s Greek strategist-general Themistocles and Santoro’s pouty man-child god-emperor – appear little more than one-dimensional automatons who keep making it all about themselves.
Sure, Themistocles is made out to be this brilliant strategist and master of deception, but Stapleton is simply eclipsed by Green, even when Artemisia’s forces appear to be on the losing end.
By most accounts, the real Artemisia was just as adept at deceiving the enemy as the screen Themistocles. She even kept a set of enemy colours handy and would fly them in the thick of battle to throw off pursuers. Faced with capture, she even rammed a friendly ship to make her pursuers think she was a turncoat against the Persians!
So, dear 300:ROAE scribes, it really wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch to make this all about her and serve us something decidedly different.
Alas, no luck there, so let’s just look at what we’ve got. This is not so much a sequel to 300 as a parallel tale of what was happening in other parts of ancient Greece while King Leonidas and his men defended the Hot Gates.
The narrative is quite intriguingly put together, with the significance of Queen Gorgo’s opening monologue becoming apparent only towards the end.
I also liked the flashback involving the Persian emissary (the one from the infamous “This is Spartaaaa!” down-the-well-you-go scene) here, since it does give a bit of a compassionate backstory to the poor disposable dude.
There’s some (rather far-fetched) background to the Greek-Persian conflict thrown in, and also a bit to show you that the Spartans don’t much care for anyone else among the “free peoples”.
After that comes a fairly lengthy series of naval battles that makes up the bulk of the film. Oh, don’t worry – there’s no shortage of hacking, cleaving, dismemberment and internecine bloodletting.
Somewhere in the midst of all the slaughter, you pick up hints of an anti-war sentiment, as the characters’ out-loud ruminations drift toward the tragedy of losing friends and loved ones, the catastrophic cost of mistakes, and how both sides in a conflict have plenty to atone for.
Yet the film revels too much in its showers of gore and celebration of battle-lust for such thoughts to be any more substantial than the flecks of ash and embers that seem to drift about in almost every frame.