Tag Archives: 300

Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

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Hard to believe, but Zack Snyder’s 300 was released in 2006. It came out to mixed reviews, but personally I found it to be a revelation, a campy, delightful bloodbath of stylized action and popcorn fun of the purest kind, the closest thing we have to a direct translation of a graphic novel to the big screen. There is also no other film that makes people want to work out more than this one.

There was talk of a sequel almost immediately after it became a big hit, but it has taken nearly 8 years for 300: Rise of an Empire to be made. Any time it takes that long for a sequel to be made (I even remember seeing posters and trailers as long as two years ago), you have to be concerned — is there a reason? Was it a troubled production? Were there financial difficulties?

I have no idea, frankly, but what I do know is that much of the goodwill leftover from the original had just about dissipated by the time this film came out. They left it too long, and fans of the first film had either forgotten how much they enjoyed it or hyped it up so much that the sequel was doomed to unrealistic expectations.

Directed by Noam Murro, 300: Rise of an Empire is not a direct sequel but rather a companion piece that examines events before, during and after the events in 300. There’s no Gerard Butler screaming “This. Is. Sparta!!!” this time, but his wife, played by Lena Headey, is still around looking like she just stepped off the set of Game of Thrones. The two central characters are General Themistocles, played by Aussie Sullivan Stapleton (who was brilliant in Animal Kingdom), and the ruthless naval commander Artemesia, played by the sultry Eva Green. Rodrigo Santoro returns as the God-King Xerxes (the man who killed Butler in the first film) and David Wenham also makes a cameo as Dilios, a survivor from the 300 (the one with bandages around one eye).

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The story is more convoluted that necessary, but essentially it’s all about Themistocles leading the Greeks against Artemesia’s Persian forces. The action is, like its predecessor, bloody and stylistic, with plenty of flying fluids and severed limbs interspersed with rapid and slow-mo mass battle sequences. The distinctive colour tone is again grey with splashes of red and this time blue, and the special effects, though not noticeably improved since 2008, are as good as any blockbuster made in 2014.

The biggest positive about the film, apart from it being ab absolute visual feast, is that it feels like part of the 300 universe without being exactly the same. The films look similar but there are also plenty of differences, with the most obvious being that most of the battle scenes are on the sea, whereas in 300 they are all on the mountains and in the plains. It doesn’t come close to regenerating that freshness of its predecessor but still stands firm on its own.

The cheesy lines are harder to find this time, which is a shame, because it takes a lot of fun out of the film. As for the performances, Eva Green dominates and shines through the gloomy greys. She takes what is otherwise a fairly pedestrian script with a typical baddie and turns Artemesia into a memorable villain; a wild, vengeful nutjob who makes Stapleton’s Themistocles seem boring by comparison. Not to crap on Stapleton, who has already proven to me he can carry a role, but here his character feels sorely lacking in charisma.

At the end of the day, 300: Rise of an Empire is still a fairly enjoyable romp. It lacks the awe factor from the first film but the action sequences are still impressive and Eva Green is fantastic as the psycho villain. It’s a solid companion piece to the original but will likely be remembered as yet another sequel that didn’t really have to be made. Perhaps when another sequel is made (it’s being planned) to extend the series into a trilogy it will be viewed upon more favorably in hindsight.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Immortals (2D) (2011)

Immortals, the bloody, ultra-violent fantasy action film loosely based on Greek mythology, is widely mistaken as a Zack Snyder film (ie, the guy behind the epic 300).  I overheard no less than two couples make the erroneous connection when exiting the movie theatre.  It is easy to see why, given the similarities in content, styles, themes and incoherent shouting between the two films.  Besides, there is an overlap in producers (a fact they keep reminding us).  But unfortunately, Immortals is no 300.  Yes, it is also visually arresting and the action — when there is action — is blistering, but at the end of the day, Immortals impales itself on its laboured storytelling, rendering it plodding in comparison and ultimately forgettable.

In fact, Immortals is directed by Tarem Singh, an Indian director who was previously at the helm of The Fall and The Cell (yes, the infamous J-Lo clunker) and built his CV on music videos and commercials.  His visual style is slick, fast and brutal, with long, clear fight sequences and well-placed slow motion emphasis — rather Snyder-esque — but Immortals does not attempt to emulate 300‘s monochrome colour scheme or its comic book presentation.  I’d actually say that Immortals is closer to a mix of Clash of the Titans (for its Greek mythology and fantasy elements) and Centurion (for the excessive brutality last seen in this 2010 ultra-violent Michael Fassbender Roman conquest film).

The plot is straightforward — Hyperion (Mickey Rourke) declares war on Olympus, turning the world upside down to seek the mystical Epirus Bow in order to release these demi-god creatures called Titans to destroy the Gods.  Theseus (Henry Cavill) is an ordinary man chosen by the Gods to save humanity and gets caught up in the destruction.  He is assisted by a hot virgin oracle priestess (Freida Pinto from Slumdog Millionaire) and a strangely-loyal-for-no-reason thief (Stephen Dorff).  Let the carnage begin.

Immortals does have a lot going for it.  There are some highly entertaining action scenes, all of which involve bone crushing, blood splattering, head exploding (and according to some, excessive and unnecessary) violence and most of which involve an agile, sword/spear wielding Henry Cavill and his impressive 6% body fat.  Watching Cavill (the man whom Stephenie Meyer expressly envisioned as Edward Cullen in Twilight before he got too old for the role, and the guy who was almost James Bond) on the big screen, it’s hard to imagine why he isn’t a massive star already.  He looks fantastic, oozes charisma and has reasonable acting chops.  Immortals won’t make him that massive star, but the upcoming Superman reboot (again?) Man of Steel, in which Cavill plays the titular character, most probably will.

Freida Pinto and Stephen Dorff are underused as Cavill’s companions, but that’s more the fault of the script than their abilities.  Luke Evans (Clash of the Titans) is solid as Zeus, and Kellan Lutz (Twilight) and Isabel Lucas (Transformers 2) are semi-believable as Poseidon and Athena, respectively.

However, it is Mickey Rouke’s Hyperion that dominates.  Rouke is phenomenal and seems to relish playing these complex and unforgiving characters.  The film would not have been the same without him.  Big call, but I reckon it was his best performance since Wild Orchid (just kidding!).

So Immortals was exciting when people on screen were killing each other, but sadly, everything in between was kinda boring.  The storytelling really struggled after the opening third and never picked up any steam.  The characters remained stagnant and stopped developing, and when you think about it, the story doesn’t really go very far.  That would have been mildly acceptable had there been simply action, action and more action (like 300), but for for me it felt as though too much of the 110 minute running time was wasted on the boring stuff.

This makes Immortals an average and somewhat forgettable movie at best, but my bias for exciting battle scenes and visual flair probably boosts its rating a little higher than it should be.

3.25 out of 5!

PS: When I first saw the trailer for Immortals, I was very excited by the obvious allusions to 300.  I know that film polarised some viewers but I loved it — it was as close to a comic book or video game (I’m a big fan of both) as any film I had ever seen.

The Immortals trailer also reminded me, unexpectedly, of one of the best video game franchises of all-time, God of War, and in particular God of War III on the PS3.  If they’re ever going to make a God of War movie, I’d imagine it to be like this (at least visually).

Amazingly, I found the storytelling in God of War III, told through a series of cut scenes, to be superior to the storytelling in Immortals.  Now what does that tell you?

PPS: Forget about 3D.  It never even crossed my mind.

Movie Review: Watchmen (2009)

I had been importing my short Flixter entries for all my movie reviews up to now, but I thought if any movie deserved a full review, it would be Watchmen, possibly the most anticipated movie of the year for many (unless Harry Potter 6 or Transformers 2 is more your thing).

Disclaimer: I will preface this review with two comments: (1) I am going to stick to my convention of not revealing much about the plot or what happens in the movie; (2) I have not read the Watchmen graphic novel yet (thought it might ruin the movie experience if I read it beforehand).

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Watchmen (2009)

Director: Zack Snyder

Main cast: Malin Ackerman (Silk Spectre II), Billy Crudup (Dr Manhattan), Matthew Goode (Ozymandias), Jackie Earle Haley (Rorschach), Jeffrey Dean Morgan (The Comedian), Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl II), Carla Gugino (Silk Spectre I)

Rating: USA: R, UK: 18, Australia: MA

Running time: 163 minutes

4 out of 5 stars

Watchmen is likely to be one of the most unusual films you will ever see.  It’s about superheroes, but it’s not your typical superhero movie.  Most of the superheroes don’t display any obvious supernatural abilities (which really just makes them people who like to fight crime and have costume fetishes).  It’s often difficult to discern who is good or evil, right or wrong.  Probably all of the main characters exhibit some form of mental disorder at varying levels of seriousness.  In a sense, they are the anti-superheroes.

As I said, I don’t like to reveal the plot for those that don’t want to know about it (but I assume most people who go to see it have a rough idea).  All I will say is that the story takes place in an alternate historical version of 1985, during the peak of the US/USSR Cold War.  This becomes clear in the opening sequences.

However, to some extent, it doesn’t really matter what the plot is about, because at its heart, Watchmen is a character movie.  The story is told in non-linear form, jumping from character to character and revealing their back stories through flashbacks.  There is a central line in the plot, a mystery waiting to be solved, but the focus is firmly on the characters – who they are, how they became the way they are, their personal struggles, their fears, desires, motivations and ambitions.  At the same time, there is this constant undercurrent about the nature of human beings, and in particular, their capacity (or lack thereof) for understanding and compassion.

The Watchmen graphic novel (by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins) first came out between 1986 and 1987, which explains the setting.  For many years, it was regarded as unadaptable, and after seeing this film, I got a sense of why that may have been the popular opinion.  It’s a shame that the movie was not made closer in time to the graphic novel, because the story reflects many of the contemporary anxieties of the American public of that period.  Many of those anxieties are still relevant today, but they have evolved (in the wake of 9/11) and the impact is not quite the same as it would have been.

Directing and Screenplay

Director Zack Snyder and writers David Hayter (who wrote the original script) and Alex Tse (who kept the best elements but amended much of it) should be commended on bringing Watchmen to life at last.  As I haven’t read the graphic novel, I cannot comment on how good the adaptation was, but as a standalone film, it was very good, though not great.  The difficulty may lie with the running length – at 163 minutes, it is very long for a superhero movie (though not as extraordinary as it would have been a few years ago) – but at the same time, you get a strange feeling that there was much more of this bizarre world yet to be explored.  Perhaps the director’s cut, which is supposedly 191 minutes (and coming out with the DVD), will be a more complete picture for those that want to see more of it.  For some, I imagine 163 minutes is already too much.

Acting

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Haley as Rorschach was amazing

The importance of the acting in a film like this cannot be understated.  For the most part, the actors in the lead roles delivered believable performances that traversed a plethora of emotions.  The clear standout would undoubtedly be Jackie Earle Haley as the freakish yet intriguing Rorschach, the best character by far.  You’re already impressed with him when he wears a mask that obscures his entire face.  You then become even more amazed when he takes off the mask.  Truly brilliant.

Not far behind is Patrick Wilson (Haley’s co-star in the magnificent Little Children), an extremely underrated and underappreciated actor who plays Nite Owl II, a slightly overweight and awkward social misfit.

If there is a weak link, it would have to be Matthew Goode’s Ozymandias.  While he may fit the bill physically (tall, lean and traditionally handsome), he doesn’t quite exude the charm and presence needed from the character.  Not to take anything away from Goode’s performance because it was adequate, but if you have to pick on someone it’s him.

Violence, Sex and Special Effects

Given the classification ratings for Watchmen, it’s not surprising that there is an abundance of incredibly bloody and gruesome violence (as well as ‘normal’ violence), a bit of sex and nudity (both real and assisted by special effects) and some coarse language (though not as much as I expected).  I’m glad they made this film for adults rather than worry about the classification and go for a toned down version that simply wouldn’t have worked.

The fight scenes were superbly choreographed – smooth, crisp and whole, thankfully avoiding the rapid cut scenes that have plagued action films of late.  And from the guy who directed 300, I would have expected nothing less.  On the other hand, Snyder didn’t shy away from some of the more frightening scenes either, displaying the pain, gore and blood in all its glory.

As for the special effects – they were good, but certainly not groundbreaking.  They did a fairly decent job with Billy Crudup’s Doctor Manhattan, but there were times when you could easily spot things that were completely computer generated (not that you would expect them to build the real thing).

Conclusion

On the whole, Watchmen was very very good – but it fell considerably short of the masterpiece some it expected to be.  It may seem unfair, but you cannot NOT compare the film to its source material (or at least its reputation if you haven’t read it), which is considered by many to be the greatest graphic novel of all time.

There were some absolutely brilliant sequences littered throughout this movie, but it was more scattered than consistent.  Those expecting an all-out action flick might be disappointed because there are quite a few ‘dull’ character development moments in between.  I assume there will probably be 4 broad classes of reactions to Watchmen: (1) loved the graphic novel and therefore loved the movie; (2) loved the graphic novel but felt the film did not do it justice; (3) haven’t read the graphic novel and now want to after seeing the film; (4) thought it was weird and stupid and didn’t get it.

I put myself in the third category.