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300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
The closing credits of this feature do state that the events and characters it depicts are fictional, but the battles of Thermopylae and Artemisium did happen in 480 BC, during the Greco-Persian Wars. King Leonidas I (540-480 BC), politician and naval general Themistokles (524-459 BC), and King Xerxes I (518-465 BC) actually were major players in those struggles locking Greece's sovereignty against the world's first superpower: Persia. The Persian Empire stretched across thousands of square kilometres during the reign of Xerxes I, encompassing modern-day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Libya, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and India. Themistokles' forces did defeat Xerxes' father, King Darius, at the Battle of Marathon ten years before Thermopylae and Artemisium. In a strange twist of fate later on, Themistokles ended up living his last years in exile as a Persian governor. However, because other figures and specific situations presented are fictional within the context of that documented era, 300: Rise of an Empire falls into the genre of historic fantasy. Like Pompeii (2014), or Zero Dark Thirty (2012).
Wow, what a hugely disappointing rehash this much-anticipated sequel turned out to be. Heavily reliant on replays of - and key references to - its wonderfully compelling, visually astounding big screen predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire is little more than a live-action puppet show of surprisingly dreadful story telling populated by a desperately uninteresting cast. Its starring lead, Sullivan Stapleton, brings absolutely no screen presence to his role as war-tested Greek general Themistokles. Stapleton's character is so macho that even his name looks like it rhymes with testicles, and yet it's a chore noticing he's on-screen in most of his scenes. He's boring! A mouse, far removed from the thunderous gregarity of Leonidas. In contrast, Eva Green's performance as blood-thirsty, perpetually bitchy Persian weapon personified Artemisia is laughably hammy as she flails and gnashes through her nutty, over-the-top dialogue. She's like a younger, armoured and blade-wielding version of Gloria Swanson's Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard (1950), all teeth and crazy eyes, slicing and dicing anyone who gets in the way of her treasured close-up.
The core story this hot mess
revolves around is the naval Battle of Artemisium, fought on
the Grecian shores of the grey and choppy Aegean Sea, between
General Testicles, uh, General Themistokles and his combined
militia of half-naked seamen and Xerxes' mighty armada led by
hot-tempered killer Artemisia. Hugely out-numbered in men and
ships, Themistokles relies on strategic use of the sea and weather
in his efforts to stop Persia's invasion as he did a decade earlier.
Ships crash and smash apart. Blades and blood fill the air in
aching slow motion. Stuff blows up, in aching... slow... motion.
Apparently fresh off the set of the recent Pompeii movie, a white
horse randomly appears and runs through feiry wreckage. In. Slow.
Mo. Yawn. We weep for the glory days when 300 was a new and awesome
movie, eight long years ago. (Read
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