300: Rise of an Empire (MA15+)
Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro
DIRECTOR NOAM MURRO
REVIEW MARK NAGLAZAS
When Zack Snyder's sword-and- sandal- meets-CGI epic 300 was released in 2006 it came to be known as the movie that launched a thousand gay jokes.
I'm sure Snyder, in adapting Frank Miller's graphic novel about history's heroic band of Spartans who saved Greece from a Persian invasion, didn't intend to make a camp classic. But when you have groups of brawny men with oiled-up bodies, rippling, digitally enhanced abs and short skirts its appeal goes beyond the normal teenage-boy demographic.
300 was so successful I assumed we'd get more of the same in the sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, especially since the slogan of the new movie is the cheeky, gay and lesbian Mardi Gras-ready "Seize your glory" (let's see the Dockers adopt that one for the upcoming season).
However, the producers of Rise of an Empire have avoided further gags at the same time as responding to the emergence of the female action hero in films such as The Hunger Games. They have elbowed aside the boys, with French star Eva Green so utterly dominating the movie as the Greek-born Persian naval commander Artemisia that Aussie hunks Sullivan Stapleton and Callan Mulvey feel less like ancient-world warriors and more like a chorus in a glittery drag show.
Every time Green is on screen Rise of an Empire goes up a notch or three as she wages war against her own people, extracting revenge for the Greeks slaughtering her family and forcing her to spend her youth imprisoned as a sexual plaything. Beware of Greek ladies bearing a grudge.
Artemisia is stung into action when the man who saved and raised her, the Persian King Darius, is killed by an arrow shot by Greek warrior Themistokles (Stapleton).
She and Darius' biological son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who takes a plunge in a magical pool and turns himself into a god (Ian Thorpe did the same thing centuries later), launch an attack on the perennially divided Greece, this time coming by sea with a navy that vastly outnumbers their rivals.
While shift from land to sea freshens up the 300 franchise, there's something a little less exciting about naval warfare when compared with the vast armies descending on each other and the athleticism of hand-to-hand combat on terra firma.
But incoming director Noam Murro, a veteran of television commercials, still manages to whip up a visual storm, splashing liberal amounts of blood over the scenes of battle, as if Jackson Pollock had taken his paint can to Miller's comic-book panels.
If you see it in 3-D you might wish you were wearing goggles.
The battle scenes, however, have none of the intensity of the scenes involving Green's Artemisia, including one mind-boggling moment in which she gets Themistokles in her clutches and makes love to him, an encounter as deadly as it is sexy (it is a curiously confronting scene for a film aimed at a teenaged-male audience).
What lets the movie down is the performance of Stapleton, who simply does not have the vocal capacity or physical presence (despite a gym-toned physique) to play a heroic ancient-world character (Sam Worthington has the same problem in the Clash of the Titans movies).
Indeed, I found myself longing for the star of the original 300, Gerard Butler, who went from being a skirt-wearer to a skirt-chaser in a series of Hollywood rom-coms. While CGI can bring out your abs it ain't going to turn you into Brando or even Butler.