300: Rise of an Empire Review

300: Rise of an Empire movie posterSynopsis
During Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) land campaign against King Leonidas’ 300 Spartans, Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) rallies Greek’s city states against Artemisia (Eva Green), commander the massive Persian Navy.

Review
There is no doubt that 300 was a success when came out in 2007. It may not have been a very deep movie, but it’s hyper-realism gave it a unique look. 300: Rise of an Empire is very much the same experience only more violent and sexier than before.

If you enjoyed the airbrush feel of 300 like I did, you will like it here. Rise of an Empire has the same visual style as before. The stylized violence returns as well. Although 300 offered its fair share of blood, it seemed to focus more on the strike that drew the blood, such as the sword slash or spear stab. This movie, however, held nothing back when it came to blood splatter. It reminded me of Dredd where anytime there was blood there was a ton of it.

Where the Spartans fought on land, Themistocles and his Greek army fights on the water. It makes for a different experience and set pieces. The naval battles are pretty impressive. One of the first battles has two Greek ships destroying a Persian ship by sandwiching it between their bows. It looks pretty amazing, particularly with the cinematography, and makes for a good contrast to the combat in 300.

Like it’s predecessor, Rise of an Empire is based off of a book written by Frank Miller. This time it is based off Xerxes, which hasn’t been released yet. It acts as a prequel/side-story to the events depicted in 300. It was easy to determine when the events of 300 occurred because there were brief glimpses or references to the Spartan’s actions. The plot shares many elements from before, too, such as a father-son fighting duo and the leader’s life-long friend. However, it feels like a simple rehash of the relationships in 300, rather than a new, original story.

Eva Green is by far the star of this film. She completely gets into the role of Artemisia. Very similar to Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) she proves that she is more that capable of taking care of herself, both on and off the battlefield. She is also one of the few characters given much back story or deep motivation.

Except for Artemisia, the characters aren’t very memorable. Members of the Greek army were pretty one-dimensional. They tried to make some character relationships, like a father and son, and the leader’s best friend, to expand the characters but it didn’t work as well as it did in 300. Themistocles pales in comparison to Leonidas. Sullivan Stapleton lacks the charisma of Gerard Butler and the character suffers for it.

300: Rise of an Empire is the sequel few really asked for, but somehow manages to hold its own. Visually, it shares the same hyper-realistic style that made 300 so enjoyable, and the water combat served as a nice variation to the Spartan’s land battles. Besides Eva Green’s Artemisia, who Green fully embraces, none of the main characters are very memorable. This film shares many similarities to 300 that made that film entertaining, but it feels too similar to make it really stand out as a new experience.

Rating
3/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Noam Murro – Director
Zack Snyder – Screenplay
Kurt Johnstad – Screenplay
Junkie XL – Composer

Sullivan Stapleton – Themistocles
Eva Green – Artemisia
Lena Headey – Queen Gorgo
Hans Matheson – Aesyklos
Callan Mulvey – Scyllias
David Wenham – Dilios
Rodrigo Santoro – Xerxes
Jack O’Connell – Calisto
Andrew Tiernan – Ephialtes
Igal Naor – King Darius
Andrew Pleavin – Daxos

300 Review

300 movie posterSynopsis
When Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian army threaten Greece, King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) wishes to take his Spartan army to face him. After consulting the Ephors at Delphi, they refuse to allow him to declare war. Displeased, Leonidas takes a three hundred of his best Spartan soldiers to stop the invaders at Thermopylae.

Review
I really enjoy movies like 300; simple plot, great action and awesome visuals. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, 300 is a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae during the Persian Wars. Know right away that it is not a documentary nor very accurate (read not at all) to the actual battle. But man does it look amazing.

The visual style of the film is up there as one of my favorites. The coloring over the film gives it almost an airbrushed feel, a very similar style to its source material. Most of the movie was shot using blue and green screens, with most of the environment being computer generated. It creates a very surreal look and feel that is exceptional.

Few movies offer the brutality 300 does. The first forty-five minutes or so are spent setting up the Spartans and the battle ahead, but once it starts, it goes all out. But in contrast, the non-action scenes lack something to hold my attention. During these intermittent scenes, I was just itching to get back to the action.  Although I understand it couldn’t be ninety minutes of fighting, the other scenes aren’t as interesting.

Zack Snyder was the best directorial choice for this film. This was only his second film (his first being the Dawn of the Dead remake) as director, but his style fits perfectly. His hyper-realistic style really brings an element to the movie that makes it feel unique.

A strength and a weakness of this movies is the plot. It’s very simple: Leonidas and his men fight Xerxes at the Hot Gates. Along with some politics happening back in Sparta, that’s pretty much all there is to it. This makes way for some breathtaking cinematography and action sequences. However, the action and thin plot doesn’t allow for much characterization.  So if you are looking for some deep character moments, you won’t find them here.

Sometimes it is great to just watch a movie with a simple premise. 300 may not be the most thought provoking movie out there, but what it lacks characterization, or any real story for that matter, it offers spectacular visuals and pure, unfiltered action. Zack Snyder proves that he is a specialist when it comes to working with “hyper-realism.” Visually stunning and unapologetically brutal, 300 is one of my favorite ways to kill an afternoon (pun intended).

Rating
4/5

Trailer

Cast & Crew
Zack Snyder – Director/Screenplay
Kurt Johnstad – Screenplay
Michael Gordon – Screenplay
Tyler Bates – Composer

Gerard Butler – King Leonidas
Lena Headey – Queen Gorgo
Dominic West – Theron
David Wenham – Dilios
Vincent Regan – Captain
Michael Fassbender – Stelios
Tom Wisdom – Astinos
Andrew Pleavin – Daxos
Andrew Tiernan – Ephialtes
Rodrigo Santoro – Xerxes

Dredd Review

Dredd Movie PosterSynopsis
In the future, America is a wasteland and the Human race lives in Mega-City One, a large metropolis spanning along the East Coast from Boston to Washington DC, where violence is rampant. “Judges” are tasked with maintaining order in the chaos as judge, jury, and executioner. Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) take on Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) and her drug operation in the Peach Trees mega-block.

Review
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the character of Judge Dredd, he appears the British comic book 2000 AD. The first Judge Dredd story appeared in 1977, and since then has developed a rich mythology. Dredd doesn’t try to incorporate much of its source material. Instead, it focuses on the titular character, giving us a brief, but satisfying, glimpse into the dystopian world of Mega-City One.

The plot is simple: Judges Dredd and Anderson are trapped in Peach Trees and must ascend to the top of the building to get to Ma-Ma and lift the lockdown. It really is that straightforward. This simplicity is very beneficial because it allows the narrative to breath and not get bog down by twists or too many details. Instead, the movie focuses on the relationship between Dredd and Anderson, as well as the action and violence (you know, the important stuff).

The thing that stands out the most in this film are the special effects. Slow-motion, coupled with the other CGI effects, make Dredd look absolutely gorgeous (maybe not the most flattering way to describe a gritty movie, but hey, whatever). Several scenes were shot at 4000 frames per second, so you can see pretty much every detail. I don’t have a 3D blu-ray player, nor did I see it in 3D when it was in theaters, but I can only imagine how much that may have actually added to the experience.

Dredd carries an R rating, and takes full advantage of it. The violence can get pretty brutal and has Tarantino-amounts of blood at times. It’s actually comical how much blood is flying around; there were several moments I laughed at the amount of gore. But for some reason, when this satirical violence is combined with the slow-motion, it become something quite elegant. Understanding the violence of the source material and embracing that comic book nature of it really helps this movie from becoming overly serious.

Initially, Urban didn’t strike me as a good fit to play the character of Judge Dredd since it is much grittier than the other roles I have seen him play. But I must say I am pleasantly surprised how well he made the character work. Most of his face is obscured by a helmet, so Urban had to use his mouth to convey any kind of emotion, granted there wasn’t much to convey. He uses a hoarse voice, similar to Christian Bale’s Batman, that really establishes the experience and hard history of the character.

It’s too bad Dredd didn’t do well in theaters because it offered a great introduction into a world that is ripe for exploring. The initial outing focused on Dredd, Anderson, and their relationship. A sequel could expand the mythos around the Hall of Justice, mutants, and the rest of Mega-City One in general. The stories are there, it’s just a matter of whether or not Lionsgate will make a sequel. I hope they do, and I know others do too given the Dredd sequel campaign.

Dredd is has become a cult hit and I think it really needs a sequel (or two). The simple plot allows for a tight focus on the major characters. Although the violence is over-the-top, when it’s combined with the slow-motion effects, they become hypnotically beautiful sequences. I really hope its cult status gets noticed by the people that can make a follow-up film happen, because I don’t think there are many movies that I actively hope for a sequel for more than Dredd.

Rating
4/5