Saturday, March 15, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

Noam Murro's 300: Rise of an Empire: Starved for Identity

If there is one myth that needs to be debunked this early on, it is the myth that Zack Snyder’s 300 is a good movie. A series of vulgarly stylized tableaus that celebrate violence in the guise of bravery and heroism, the film, lifted from George Miller’s famous graphic novel of the same title, would end up with its unfair share of exclaimed praises.

The females of 300 are relegated to the background to serve as adornments to the Spartans’ bulging muscles and insatiable bloodlust. Its enemies, on the other hand, are either misshapen or devilishly monstrous, probably to enunciate the visualized virtues of the film’s outnumbered heroes. Underneath all its pretty posturing, the film is nothing but a confused celebration of ignoble machismo and reprehensible intolerance.

300: Rise of an Empire, directed by commercial director Noam Murro, has the feel of an afterthought. Snyder’s film is bare and flimsy and needed the backbone of a proper narrative. Rise of an Empire, with its story that spans events prior, during, and after those of 300, puts everything in perspective.

Xerxes, played by Rodrigo Santoro, is given a lengthy backstory, which would serve as an explanation to his grossly towering figure and stoic inhumanity. Persia is no longer just the land from which the invading monstrosities come from. It is now an adequately motivated world power, reeling from the murder of a respected ruler who was just out to prove the folly of Greek democracy.

The Greece which Leonidas of Snyder’s movie so brashly referred to as “philosophers and boy-lovers” is represented in Rise of an Empire by Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. The soldier, who rose to legendary status by killing Xerxes’ father, proves to be a more complicated hero than Leonidas. Absent the authority that is inherent on a king of a warrior city-state, Themistokles bears the difficult burden of proving his mettle in both battle and wit.

Unfortunately, whatever depth Themistokles’ character has is forgotten as soon as the movie unravels itself as just another snuff picture draped in elegant slow motion and digitized hues. Like Snyder before him, Murro makes spectacles out of bodies being impaled, limbs being severed, and blood being sprayed with wild abandon.

Rise of an Empire’s one chance at redemption is Artemisia, played with such delightful excess by Eva Green. The Greek slave turned general of Persia’s fleet of ships singlehandedly cures 300’s blatant chauvinism. By establishing her as the sly mastermind to Xerxes’ demigod status, she exemplifies the oft-repeated adage that behind every successful man is a woman. When Themistokles rejects Artemisia’s offer of sex and power in exchange for his betrayal, Artemisia then exemplifies another oft-repeated adage about women, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” by unleashing the entire power of Persia’s navy to teach her man a lesson.

Sadly, Rise of an Empire’s understanding of the women it belatedly brings into the picture is as rote and ancient as the over-quoted sayings about women Artemisia exemplified in the film. Artemisia is still nothing more than the stereotypical villain that needs to be vanquished for good to prevail.

The recently widowed Gorgo, portrayed by Lena Headey, gives the entire picture a female perspective by narrating most of the story with such solemnity that is reserved for tales much grander than this. The women of Rise of an Empire are still beholden to patriarchal values to be worthy of attention and glory. Other than the surface-level acknowledgments of women, Rise of an Empire does not really redeem 300 from the numerous mistakes it committed.

Rise of an Empire is pretty much everything one can expect from being a by-product of 300’s success. From the countless sickening speeches that trivialize virtues to the too-many soulless battles, Murro’s film is one that starves for identity. While it attempts to cure the thematic sins of its predecessor, it ultimately fails to rise above the necessity for gimmickry.

(First published in Rappler.)

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