300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

2016 #78
Noam Murro | 98 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Taking place before, during, and after the events of Zack Snyder’s surprise-hit graphic novel adaptation 300, belated follow-up Rise of an Empire tells the wider story of what was going on in the war between Greece and Persia. In particular, it follows Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he commands a series of sea battles against the Persian navy, led by Artemisia (Eva Green).

300 was known from the off as a case of style over substance, both in terms of its visuals (the ultra-heightened colour palette at a time when extreme digital grading still felt new; the slow-mo/fast-mo/etc editing) and its storytelling (taking an historical event and ramping it up to the level of legend; dialogue more concerned with being readily quotable than sounding plausible). But it committed so thoroughly to that methodology that it kind of worked, in its own ridiculous way. It helped that, as I said, it was all quite new — 300 was a visual revelation back in 2007, and that was enough. Now, plenty of films look like that, leaving 300 2 in search of a hook. It doesn’t find one.

It doesn’t help that the CGI this time is terrible, making the whole thing look like a computer game with real people occasionally dropped in. It’s not just the low quality of the graphics (calling them “effects” or “visuals” seems generous), but the way the camera moves and frames things. And the gore is gorno-level outrageous. In one shot early in the film, we see a horse rise up in fright, slow motion emphasising how its whole body is lifting into the air on its hind legs, its front hoof flailing, its eyes wild… before it comes crashing down, its hoof smashing into a grounded man’s head, the not-even-vaguely-plausible CGI blood exploding everywhere — in slow motion, of course.

It’s also terribly obvious that it was shot for 3D. I’m not normally one to criticise a film for that — I think when some critics know a film is being released in 3D they see that in its shot choices, even if they’re perfectly valid choices for 2D. But Rise of an Empire screams that it was made for 3D from the start, with all manner of things thrust towards the camera, usually in slow motion, and the constant explosions of blood (to call them squirts or sprays implies a more liquid-like quality than they actually possess) which go nowhere else but camerawards. Presumably the only reason it’s not an 18 for violence is because it’s all so bloody silly.

There is no point discussing or analysing any other aspects of the film. In every respect — from the clunky structure, to the leaden dialogue, to the poor performances, to the cheap visuals, to the fake CGI — this doesn’t feel like the $110 million blockbuster it is, but like a direct-to-Syfy TV movie.

1 out of 5

300: Rise of an Empire is available on Amazon Prime Instant Video UK as of yesterday.

It featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2016, which can be read in full here.

The Delayed Monthly Update for April 2016

I was away this weekend and didn’t have much time for blogging, and most of what I did have was spent finishing 1999 Week, so that’s why this post is later than normal (and also why I have plenty of your posts & comments still to catch up on!)

(Also-also, if you were wondering where the “top films of 1999” post I promised had got to, I wrote about three-quarters of it before I decided it was rubbish, so I abandoned it. I’m sure I’ve published lots of rubbish on this blog over the years, but never deliberately.)

Anyway, on with what I watched in April…


#68 Of Human Bondage (1934)
#69 Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
#70 Cool World (1992)
#71 Warrior (2011)
#72 The Limey (1999)
#73 The Thomas Crown Affair (1999)
#74 Election (1999)
#75 The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984), aka Wu Lang ba gua gun
#76 Ghosts of Mars (2001)
#77 Caesar Must Die (2012), aka Cesare deve morire
#78 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
#79 Lost River (2014)
#80 The Fighter (2010)
#81 Wuthering Heights (2011)
#82 A Royal Night Out (2015)
#83 Locke (2013)
#84 Maleficent (2014)
#85 Christine (1983)
#86 The Iron Giant (1999)
#87 Badlands (1973)
#88 Pixels (2015)

.


  • This is the earliest I’ve ever reached #75 — the previous best was 1st June, last year.
  • Coincidentally, I reached #75 this year on the date that I reached #50 last year (8th April) — which at the time was a record.
  • “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen” continues at pace with Brad Bird’s popular animated B-movie homage The Iron Giant. I’ve already reviewed it here.
  • Four films from 1999 this month. We know what that led to.


For the fourth month in a row, I’ve crossed the 20 film boundary. Out of 112 months I’ve been doing this, it’s only the 7th time that’s happened. Expressed another way, it only happens 6.25% of the time; before 2016, it only happened 2.78% of the time (and before 2015, it only happened 1.04% of the time!)

The final number of films this month was actually 21, which is slightly behind the 2016 average — but only slightly, because that was 22.3. It’s now adjusted to a round 22. Conversely, being five films better than April’s previous best, it raises the April average from 8.25 to 9.67.

Predictions are typically futile, though it’s beginning to look like I’ll be away for most of December, which throws an interesting variable in the mix. (I say “interesting” in a relative sense.) Of course, “most” is not “all”, so it likely won’t count for 0 — but will it reach the 10-per-month minimum I’ve been holding steady on for nearly two years now? Well, that’s a discussion for December itself. In the meantime, even if December doesn’t reach 10, my final tally should be in excess of 160 — easily enough to score the second best year ever. If I hew closer to that 22 average, 2016 could wind up passing 250…



Foreign deconstructions of American values, genre revisionism, high camp, one of the greatest Bond films, and paternal revelations — it’s all go in this month’s eight favourites!



The 11th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
Quite an easy choice this month. Films that are made ‘artily’ (for want of a better word) sit on a fine line, for me: too far one way and they tip off into pretentious dullardom, but get it right and they can be utterly fantastic. A couple of films erred on the right side of that line this month, thankfully, but only one really nailed it, and that was The Limey.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
Even in a month that includes multiple critically-reviled films (Cool World, Ghosts of Mars, Lost River, Pixels), my pick for this category was really easy — and it’s none of those. This winner’s predecessor wasn’t exactly high art (far from it), but it had something to it — some innovation; some merit in its extremeness. This sequel doesn’t have that. For being almost entirely vacuous and looking cheap as chips, this month’s travesty of cinema is 300: Rise of an Empire.

Most Inexplicably Popular Film of the Month
I’m going to steal a bit from the draft of my forthcoming review to explain this one: “The weirdest thing is, this is the kind of movie I regularly give 4-stars to, while loads of other people give it 3 and I think they’re being a bit harsh but I can see where they’re coming from. Yet somehow Warrior transcends such criticism from people who usually have too much ‘taste’ — they acknowledge it’s terribly clichéd, but then give it a pass on that. Why? Why don’t you give the same leniency to the tonnes of other movies you cruelly rip to shreds for their clichés?” (For more on this theme, see table9mutant’s review.)

Most Critically-Reviled Film of the Month That I Actually Really Enjoyed
As I alluded to above, there are several contenders for this trophy (not Cool World, though — that is rubbish). Leaving aside a couple of sci-fi blockbusters that, while not as bad as many critics made out, are still not really more than “entertaining while they’re on”, the winner here is Ryan Gosling’s directorial debut Lost River. Heavily influenced by other filmmakers, certainly, and almost self-consciously elliptical with its pace and storytelling, I nonetheless thought there was a lot to like if you’re open to ‘that kind of film’ (think Lynch).

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
Thanks to a retweet by Film4, views for Starman went through the roof (relative to my normal posts, anyway). It wasn’t enough to challenge Harry Potter 1&2 for the most-viewed post of the month overall, but then nothing ever is.


Once upon a time, I made a comment that can be summarised as, “Perhaps one day I could reach #100 in May — ha ha ha ha ha, like that could ever happen!”

Well…