Back in the distant past (err… 2007), Zack Snyder’s 300 hit theaters and became a surprise hit, grossing over 300 million dollars domestically whilst also igniting heated cultural and political debate. Deep in the midst of the Iraq war, 300 became a lightening rod for both liberal and conservative agendas. Was the film a celebration of war jingoism or were it’s very excesses satirizing such displays of patriotism? The film’s reach extended far beyond mere water cooler talk though, it’s potent hyperkinetic visual palette (much of which was taken panel for panel from Frank Miller & Lynn Varley’s graphic novel) serving as ‘inspiration’ for a bevy of imitators – Immortals, Clash of the Titans (2010), and, hell, even Frank Miller’s own The Spirit. So it’s shocking to think that it’s taken nearly seven years for a sequel to finally reach the big screen.
Originally scheduled for release late last year, 300: Rise of An Empire finally hits the big screen March 7th. Last night in anticipation/promotion of the sequel’s impending release, Warner Brothers hosted the first thirteen minutes of the new film in front of a screening of 300. For a full report on just what to expect from the first thirteen minutes of 300: Rise of An Empire, hit the jump.
300: Rise of An Empire opens with the logos of Warner Brothers and Legendary superimposed as doors to a Greek temple, opening to a mural of fallen Spartan soldiers. The tableau than slowly morphs into the actual battlefield, the deceased slowly revealing themselves to be the fallen Spartans of the first 300, dead center among them: King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). King Xerxes approaches the dead king, peers over him, raises his giant axe and lops poor Butler’s head clean off. Then as Athens crumbles into ash, Xerxes raises the decapitated head to witness the destruction. Cue Title: 300: Rise of An Empire
From here the film flashes forward to the eve of the Battle of Salamis as Queen Gorgo (Lena Headley) pep talks her naval force with the tale of how the Persian/Greek feud began. Flashback to a battlefield as the Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads a sneak attack against intruding Persian forces. Spears are thrust into bodies, heads crushed under agitated horse hooves, bellies ripped open… It’s everything one could expect from a 300 film, the camera at once slowing down to revel in the carnage and then immediately speeding up to convey the chaos of war. However unlike 300, the colors are conspicuously muted in the battle. There’s a darker palette to the film, the blood (which juts out at you in 3D), instead of crimson red, is much darker – almost like a brown syrup. In fact the only element of color that stands out in the sequence is Themistocles’s light blue cape.
As the battle wages on, Themistocles spots the Persian King Darius and launches a spear at the king, echoing Leonidas’ last ditch attempt to defeat Xerxes. However unlike that near miss, the spear hits Darius dead center, right in front of the king’s own son Xerxes. A nd thus the Persian/Greek feud was born.
Xerxes, in the early going here, looks exactly like actor Rodrigo Santoro. The soon-to-be-king has yet to adopt all his jewelry, piercings or crazy golden attire. He even has hair in the early goings. The next five or so minutes of the picture deal with just how normal looking Xerxes became that weirdo from 300.
Enter Eva Green as Artemisia. Green here is ostensibly channeling Livia from I, Claudius – manipulating all the men to do her bidding. On King Darius’s deathbed, Darius urges Xerxes to forget the Greeks, invoking that only the Gods themselves can take down them down. Artemisia however convinces Xerxes that his father’s dying words weren’t a warning but a challenge. If only the Gods can defeat the Greeks, then Xerxes must become a God. “The first Persian King-God” she whispers into the emotionally distraught son’s ears.
And so Xerxes goes on a walkabout into the desert to prove himself a man, where he stumbles upon a cave housing some sort of ancient evil cult. They bathe Xerxes in a mystical pool and he resurfaces as that weirdo from 300. Xerxes then returns to his Persian empire and orders all his friends and acquaintances to be murdered by Artemis. After ridding every single human connection he had to this world, Xerxes takes stage over his people and announces they will go to war with the Greeks.
And that is the first thirteen minutes of 300: Rise of An Empire.
While it would be unfair to review a film based only on thirteen minutes, I will make a few stray observations. The 3D IMAX of the screening was quite good (and I say this as someone who really can’t stand 3D). The slow-mo and green screen aesthetic of 300 really lends itself to 3D. Swords poke out at you. A hammer is raised right at you before coming down on some poor shmuck’s head. There are even slow-mo 3D boobs in the first five minutes. It’s pure B-movie exploitation bliss – and, well, I can’t help but admit I was immediately swayed over. However I’m very suspect about the pacing of the picture. As can be surmised from the above, a whole hell of a lot happens in the course of the opening thirteen minutes. I’m not sure if the film can maintain that sense of momentum or even if it should. I also found Lena Headley’s incessant voice-over (explaining just what was happening on screen) a little tiring in the early goings. All in all though, while I still remain suspect on the relative merits of the picture, I now know that I’ll be there opening day, hoping for the best.
300: Rise of An Empire opens March 7th.