Wednesday, 12 March 2014

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

With the ever-shouting King Leonidas dead at the end of 300, the Greco-Persian war shifts to the naval Battle of Salamis, with Athenian general Thermistocles and Queen Artemisia I as the feuding commanders. If you really want to find out how the battle went, don’t watch this film; it butchers history far worse than 300.

Where 300 gave both Leonidas and Xerxes their historical hero and villain upgrades and made them suitably larger than life for Frank Millar’s up-to-11 retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, “Rise” seems to be intent on giving everyone historical downgrades and making them smaller than real life, without noticing its incongruity with the film’s exaggerated retelling of an epic battle.

Artemesia I, instead of a ruling queen of a Greek state that allied with the Achaemenid empire, is turned into a deranged assassin exacting personal vengeance against the Greeks. While she is an unhinged and psychopathic naval general in “Rise”, the historical Artemisia I was more badass: the queen was a backstabbing, opportunistic sociopath and survivor who became so trusted after the Battle of Salamis, she got to be foster mother to Xerxes’s kids!

Thermistocles in the film is one bland and boring boy scout who talks about the ideals of democracy and Greek unity. Did I say boring? Well, he doesn’t even rant and shout and spew spittle into the screen during his “I believe” speeches. Coming from 300, that’s boring. The historical Thermistocles was more badass: imagine a populist, rabble-rousing politician who cynically cheats, lies, and steals while telling you want you want to hear so he gets you to do what he wants, and imagine that these qualities that make him such a great politico also make him a formidable general.

I would pay good money to watch Zack Snyder produce/write/direct a face-off between these 2 historical personages but not the versions presented in "Rise".

Almost entirely missing in “Rise” is the improbable Persian army of circus freaks and mutants, whose monstrous functionality was indispensable in the giddy narrative of 300.

I disliked 300 (both the book and film) for what it was: an over-the-top, self-parodying, fascist, gratuitous piece of macho and neocon posturing. That doesn’t mean to say I can’t appreciate how these repugnant features came together just in the right way and made the film so unforgettable—because watching 300: Rise of an Empire made me miss all that was unholy in 300. If the characters of “Rise” had not been given their historical downgrades, we would end up with a true sequel that matches 300 by being an over-the-top, self-parodying, jingoistic (what else is democracy’s shadow?), gratuitous piece of macho and illiberal posturing by liberals. And that would be something to watch.

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