CINEMA: There Will Be Blood


300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014, directed by Noam Murro, 102 minutes, U.S.)

BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC It is surprising that it has taken seven years to mount a sequel to Zach Snyder’s left field hit 300, but who would have predicted a sequel at all when all 300 title characters died in the first film? Gerald Butler, the original film’s star may only be seen fleetingly amongst the corpses at the opening of 300: Rise of an Empire but the ancient battlescapes return as more impossibly musclebound soldiers — wearing little more than Speedos, beards and sandals — gather to protect Grecian democracy from the onslaught of mayhem from Persia. 300 director Zack Snyder has been replaced by the Israeli Noam Murro but it is the production design and the slow-mo aterial-puncturing, rib-cracking pummeling and the resultant arcing ejaculations of blood that remain the star of this unlikely franchise.

It wasn’t just Spartans who fought the Persian invaders, the platoon from Athens also fought, led by Themistokles (Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton on 2010’s Animal Kingdom.) I might have gone with the title 300: Two If By Sea as this sequel takes the fight to the roiling waters of the Aegean. A handful of supporting characters are back from the original, including Rodrigo Santoro as the dipped-in-gold demigod King Xerxes of Persia and Lena Headey’s Grecian Queen Gorgo who unloads some of the exposition to explain that these events are happening concurrently to those in the first film.

300: The Rise of an Empire does not veer far from the violent myth-making that made the previous chapter a hit but it does move away from the lunk-headed macho bluster of the original with the introduction of a female arch-villain Artemisia. The role is swallowed whole by Eva Green (Bond’s tragic girlfriend in the rebooted Casino Royale) and while Artemisia may not triumph in the end there is no one who can stop her from running away with the show. Orphaned and turned into a sex slave by the Greeks, Artemisia has been trained to seek revenge by the Persian king, and we’ll come to pity any fool who crosses swords with her oven the course of the film. Even her own soldiers seem unnerved by her ghoulish, ultraviolent ways, they look quietly aghast as she decapitates a man then gives a juicy kiss to his severed head. Artemisia’s pugilistic sex scene with the big stiff Themistokles is one for ages as well. Green’s feral performance runs roughshod over the entire film in a similar rude manner and it is a joy to watch.

Anybody complaining that the whole bloody package lacks subtlety is badly misreading the film’s mission: to merge Frank Miller’s garish, hyperactive comic book panels with the old-fashioned spectacle and one-dimensional heroics of the old sword-and-sandal peplum films that Italian studios cranked out in the wake of Hollywood hits like Ben-Hur. An army of Bulgarian technicians are listed in the credits (it was shot on sound stages in the thrifty environs of Sofia, Bulgaria) and they’ve brought the ancient world to life with breathtaking beauty, the gray blue dusk along the banks of the Aegean has a particularly gorgeous watercolor-smeared luminosity. The CGI process also allows some of the grandest, most fluid sea battles I’ve seen on film. None of this will stop 300: Rise of the Empire from being roundly dismissed by furrowed-brow detractors but there is no doubt that its delirious bombast will succeed in its quest to thrill the adolescent hearts of many.