Back in 2006 I stumbled onto 300 in the cinema as a “nothing else on” choice. I had watched the trailers and had been generally underwhelmed. In the end I enjoyed both the visual style and the ‘over macho’ performances of all involved and so I was rather looking forward to seeing this year’s sequel.
Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad are back converting the original Frank Miller source to the big screen, but this time around Snyder passed the directing duties onto Noam Murro. I have never come across this gentleman’s name or work before, but he picked this movie over the terrible Die Hard 4, so he clearly has some smarts!
The movie is a partial sequel to 300, but takes place both before, during and after the Spartans’ suicidal stand against the mighty Xerxes. Survivors of the first film reprise their roles where needed, but this is primarily the tale of the Athenian General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and his attempts to prevent the second prong of Xerxes’s attack on Greece.
This second front is headed up by Artemisia (Eva Green), a former Greek slave who was rescued and later proved her worth to such a degree that she became the chief military adviser to Xerxes’s father King Darius. After Thermistocles kills Darius she manipulates Xerxes’s rise to Godhood and pushes him into the assault on Greece. She leads the naval assault on the south whilst Xerxes is taking his merry time over crushing Leonidas and the Spartan 300 in the north.
As you would expect from both the first film and the graphic novel origins of this story we are not treated to an overly complex plot. What story telling we do have is done well but the intricacies of Thermistocles’s seemingly uncounterable tactics are left to the imagination, as the film focuses on the incredibly visceral action.
The visual style follows what went before in 300 and the semi-illustrated effects really lends themselves well to the 3D presentation of the film. I generally thing that 3D only works well in the animation genre of movies but here it crosses over into live action well.
All the new male roles are played by actors completely unknown to me. A quick search reveals them all to be TV actors in shows I never watched so I will treat them as movie débutantes. This is not really the film to show off their talents well, beyond their ability to have six packs and to grunt and roar in battle, we are treated to a steady stream of machismo and Father-Son bonding that carries on the trend set in the previous film. As the male lead Stapleton is pretty ordinary. He is certainly not as charismatic as Gerard Butler’s Leonidas and at certain times he seems just a little bit too understated and laid back. It is not clear why his men love him so much.
The recurring males play their parts well. David Wenham’s Dilios is sadly underused, where Hans Matheson (Aesyklos) and Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes) are just repeating where they left off 8 years ago.
That leaves us with the women, of which we have two. Lena Headey returns as the widowed Queen Gorgo and primarily plays the role of the narrator for the first 30 minutes. For the rest of the film she is more than a bit psycho and apart from the hair colour I found her Gorgo hard to separate from her Game of Thrones character Cersei.
Finally we return to Eva Green. Since Casino Royale I have been in love with her and she carries this film throughout. Artemesia is a cold, calculating sociopath and she manipulates those around her with both her beauty and her skill at arms. In this role Ms Green is stunning. Whether clothed or naked she is terrifying and yet overpoweringly sexy. The one sex scene in the film is probably one of the most consensually violent sex scenes I have witnessed and it really required the air conditioning to be turned up a notch! Even my partner agreed that she felt a bit flushed.
In summary we have an ultra violent film that is probably not as good as it’s predecessor. However it is worth watching in 3D on the big screen just for Eva Green alone. I may go again, even if just to listen to Black Sabbath’s War Pigs played by an orchestra! Why that isn’t on the official soundtrack is bemusing!