“300: Rise of an Empire”

Sax von Stroheim writes:

I went to see 300: Rise of an Empire the other day, because it’s the only movie playing right now that seems important enough to get me out of the house. Everything else can wait for Netflix.

It has close to zero in the way of traditional movie values: pacing, rhythm, storytelling, and character development all thrown out the window in favor of a formal exercise in using CGI to wildly juxtapose incommensurate scales. Big Men and Tiny Ships, or Big Ships and Even Bigger Ships, or Crazy Giant Waves and Tiny Men on Tiny Ships.

300-rise-of-an-empire-movie-screenshot-ram-ships

Half of the movie looks like this

In that sense, it felt much more animated – much more like a cartoon – than Zack Snyder’s original 300 movie. There, Snyder took Frank Miller’s 2D illustrations and gave them a sculpted, 3D feel; but the sequel, directed by Noam Murro, is much less tied to the idea of trying to represent 3D space and more about warping the image in any-and-every way possible for expressionistic effect.

It’s all grounded by a fierce performance by the great Eva Green. Lena Headey is also very good, but I kept waiting for her to move closer to center stage – really she’s just a “Very Special Guest”. This is Eva’s show.

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Eva Green is in charge of this movie

I liked it! I found the movie visually/formally engaging throughout. I guess it’s a good thing that it doesn’t have the tongue-in-cheek-or-is-it? jingoism of the first movie, but it also lacked that movie’s straightforward narrative drive: it jumped around at beginning, with several false starts, and never fell into a groove. The main male characters/actors are all pretty dull. I think they’re dull on purpose, but dull is dull.

It reminded me a lot of Tarsem Singh’s Immortals, which plays with scale in a similar way, but which I found a lot more enjoyable on a storytelling level: even though the story in Immortals is goofy and hacky and ripped right out of the Joseph Campbell playbook, it satisfied in a way that this one didn’t.

Immortals, an underrated, goofy, sword-and-sandal-and-superhero movie

Immortals, an underrated, goofy, sword-and-sandal-and-superhero movie

As I was leaving the theater I couldn’t help but get a little depressed that Eva Green and Lena Headey don’t seem to be able to get involved in many (any?) movies worthy of their talents.

Related

  • I’m surprised that we don’t seem to have any blogposts about Eva Green here, but there’s a very cool conversation about The Dreamers, a Bertolucci movie starring Eva, on Ye Olde 2Blowhards Website.
  • Immortals used to be on Netflix Watch Instant, but it isn’t there anymore. Maybe it will come back, but for now it’s available for streaming rental on Amazon (and probably some other places). I think it’s worth the $3 if you’re at all interested in contemporary fx-driven movie: it’s weirder than almost all of the more mainstream hits in the genre (i.e., the Marvel superhero movies, the children of The Matrix, etc.), and is even sexy (albeit in a very goofy way).
  • I think the original 300 is one of the most important post-Matrix blockbusters. Audiences were genuinely excited about it, and since it wasn’t about already known and loved characters (like the Batman movies), the excitement seemed pure to me and not something dredged up by marketing hacks. Hey, here’s a great 2Blowhards piece on 300.
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9 Responses to “300: Rise of an Empire”

  1. FredR says:

    At least this one didn’t have The Immortals’ off-putting homosexual S&M undercurrent.

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  2. Great stuff. I didn’t mind sitting thru the movie too much (and agree that Green and Heady were great), but I’m finding it funny how completely I’ve forgotten it. Is it something to do with the half-animated/half-live-action nature of it? Or will someone eventually manage to give this kind of movie some real human impact? Or maybe I’m missing the point entirely …

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    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      I think Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch manages some real human impact. In general, though, the movies of this genre that I like best are ones that work on a visceral/formal level — roller coaster experiences made by people who have heard of Stan Brakhage: the Crank movies, the Wachowski’s Speed Racer, etc.

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  3. I don’t completely understand why the people who make a movie like this one don’t just go full-steam-ahead and make it completely animated. Visually, I found the end titles (where Frank Miller drawings are animated) MUCH more enrapturing and extraordinary than the movie itself. Do movie people have some resistance to making fully animated movies for adults?

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    • Sax von Stroheim says:

      I don’t think fully animated action/spectacle movies play well with the large teenage audience: too much like kid’s stuff.

      Also, personally, I think the aesthetics of much of contemporary mainstream American animation are horrific — especially when it comes to “acting”. The people making today’s animated movies aren’t interested in character expression as much as they are interested in getting all the blades of grass to look right.

      At least a movie like this gives us Eva Green and Lena Headey. Or, for example, in those Marvel movies we can tune out during the CGI-fx sequences and tune back in to enjoy ScarJo and Mark Ruffalo and Robert Downey Jr. being movie stars. A fully animated movie would get rid of a lot of what’s most appealing about these kinds of things…

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  4. Fabrizio del Wrongo says:

    Eva Green should be in all movies.

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  5. Enzo Nakamura says:

    Hey! I’m a marketing hack!

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  6. Pingback: Our Favorite Things from 2014 | Uncouth Reflections

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