I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

300: Rise of an Empire

tn_300-2300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE sounds like it would be the name of a DTV prequel to 300, from the producers of DEATH RACE 2. In fact it is a major, successful theatrical release and it is a sepremidquel. A sepremidquel is of course a followup that starts out after the first movie, then skips back to before it and goes into during it (with references to some of those events) and then continues a little bit after it too. You may be sick of sepremidquels, but I think it was a clever way to continue a movie where all the main characters were horribly killed.

This is the story of Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton, ANIMAL KINGDOM), Athenian politician and warrior who (in this movie, not in history) became legendary for landing a sweet long distance arrow on King Darius of Persia during the Battle of Marathon. He dreams of a United Greece, tries to recruit others to his cause (gets there just after Leonidas left, oh well) and leads a sea battle going on at the same time as Leonidas and the 300 (who make a cameo here filled with arrows and being snacked on by a crow) are fighting their Battle of Thermal Monopoly or whatever.

Along with Themistokles’s rise in the military we see how part 1 villain Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) went from a regular dude to the Dennis Rodman-esque “God King” with the help of Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek orphan adopted by Darius and trained in combat to ultimately become the ruthless commander of Xerxe’s navy.

Other characters from the first one return. Leonidas’s widow Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) actually has a bigger part this time because she narrates so much at the beginning I started to worry that she thought she was in GOODFELLAS. We see some of Leonidas’s men, I think. Wasn’t there a guy with a bandage over his eye? Yeah, we see that guy. The Persian messenger who Leonidas kicked into the pit (Peter Mensah) is the sweetheart who rescued Artemisia from near death and trained her to fight, a cool way to retroactively add even more “oh jesus, these Spartans are intense”ness to the first one. The hunchback (Andrew Tiernan) is back, now with improved Gollum-esque big-eye movement. Forgive me, fellow patrons of the Sunday matinee at the Meridian 16, for laughing when the messenger shouted “Leonidas was betrayed by a hunchback!” You just don’t hear that sort of thing yelled with such seriousness too often.

Didn’t the first one have a weird dude with a bull’s head or something? That guy is not back. Maybe he’ll get his due in part 3. There are probly fewer monsters, but a couple new beasties including a brief appearance by giant fish monsters. The Persian ninjas with the scary metal masks are back and used for an amazing sight gag.

Zack Snyder didn’t direct this time, but he did produce and co-write the script with Kurt Johnstad and inspiration from comics person Frank Miller (THE SPIRIT, ROBOCOP 3). Johnstad was the guy who wrote part 1 as well as ACT OF VALOR and, I have just learned, a Daniel Bernhardt movie called TRUE VENGEANCE. (Anybody seen that? it’s a little pricey for a blind buy.) The director this time is Noam Murro, whose only previous feature is the indie comedy SMART PEOPLE, so it must be all the commercials he’s done that give him the visual chops to so convincingly imitate and expand on Snyder’s uniquely stylized (and slo-mo heavy) visuals from the first one.

The 3D version is a post-convert I believe but some of it looks good because there’s so much digital stuff in there and there are few if any shots without some kind of debris floating in the air – dust, embers, splashes of water, rain, fog, or some combination of the aforementioned. And lots of blood flying.

The battles – and there are more of them than in most movies – are extremely well done. So many sword and sandal movies, even before the post-action era, make due with a bunch of guys running at each other screaming followed by a dull blur of chaotic clanging. Murro tends to focus on Themistokles or another character as he travels through the crowd, documenting each swing, duck, block, stab or smash. Each move is a strategy or a response to another move, more graceful than just swinging swords back and forth.

I love the one where he rides a horse over a boat, the camera leaves him only to show how close Artemisia is on her boat, and that they’re making eye contact, then it goes back and follows his horse jumping in the water and then onto her boat…

Because so much of the battle is at sea it’s very different from and, to me, often more interesting than the fights in 300. There’s the same type of sword play but with many tactics involving jumping to and from ships, ramming ships, blowing things up, etc. And I’m glad I wasn’t thinking of this as an allegory about the western world vs. the middle east, because I was able to enjoy the badassness of the Persian elite warriors who, when you think about it, are basically suicide bombers.

Part of the fun is that the movie embraces the R-rating like a Spartan embraces death in battle. There are many severings of heads and limbs, swords entering one side of a body and exiting the other, live people turning into effects in the same shot, understanding computers as a way to do things that couldn’t be done with latex alone instead of as a cheap way to not have to bother with it. Blood spews in myriad ways, looking less artificial than in the first movie, from what I remember, but continuing in its quest to bring painterly beauty to every spray or gush. Every blood geyser is unique, like a snowflake.

Ah, fuck, I knew I recognized Murro’s name for somewhere. I just read that he was attached to A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD for a while but left when this one seemed more likely to happen. What I wouldn’t give for action scenes this clear instead of those things that Jonathan Moore put in where action scenes would’ve gone.

Like with Gerard Butler when I first saw 300 I didn’t recognize Stapleton from other movies, but he’s pretty cool and looks like Robert Patrick with muscles (prediction: will play a Terminator in the new Terminator movie). I suppose this is more on the costume designer than on the acting performance but I like that Themistokles wears a blue cape, making him instantly identifiable in any sea of muddy pecs and abs.

mp_300-2Themistokles is the main character but there is no denying that this is Artemisia’s movie, and Eva Green’s. You know how Eva Green is, if she wants it we’ll give it to her. I don’t know what it is but she just has that thing, something in her eyes I think. She also happens to be the perfect woman for the world of 300. She’s usually scary-hot, here she’s evil-hot. Her face is in a constant scowl of disgust, she has scars on her face and neck, you know she’s gotta have some serious armpit smell, and yet/therefore there are few of us who would have the fortitude to resist her. In one scene she beheads a guy, then kisses him on the lips. For mercy’s sake you hope it fell within that few seconds when the head is still conscious.

One of the best scenes in the movie, maybe the best, is when Artemisia calls Themistokles to her boat and tries to recruit him like the Emperor trying to recruit Luke. Except sexier. Of course she’s showing a little cleavage, a little leg, standing real close to him, finding excuses to touch him. He’s obviously tempted, tortured even, but he has a family at home, a nation to unite, a war to win. So he pulls away and he (SPOILER) just kidding, he grabs her and fucks her all over the room and against the walls. It’s violent sex and battle music plays as he grabs her and tries to go from behind, but she counters and throws him on his back to get on top. He turns into a total animal but then refuses her offer and gets kicked to the curb without finishing. That’s what makes this a great sword and sandal movie is that it has a scene where the hero has to return to his men with that shameful look of immediate regret after letting his dick take over.

It’s a sex scene loaded with meaning and that brings me to the other reason Artemisia is a great mythical character: if her side weren’t trying to conquer a smaller country she’d be the hero. I know the Athenians, unlike the Spartans, say they believe in democracy and freedom and life after war. Remember, these are the so-called pussies Leonidas made fun of for being farmers, poets and potters (they make a joke about it). And I don’t want to be racist or elitist but it’s kinda nice to be away from the Spartans for a while, you know what I mean? Nice to occasionally hear about a topic other than Sparta, Sparta, war, Sparta, or Sparta.

But despite all the fancy talk these Athenians are as brutal in their fight as Artemisia is, and she has a really good reason to hate her fellow Greeks: they raped and killed her family in front of her, raped her (as a child!) and left her for dead in the street. And then the Persian king saved her and gave her a good life and then Themistokles fuckin killed him. I mean, I don’t agree with all of her choices but I’m kinda siding with her. I like that in a movie.

You know who she reminds me of a little bit is Angelina Jolie’s cave demon in BEOWULF, a scary badass woman who men are too stupid to resist, who has been horribly wronged by men, has legitimate grievances but is treated as the bad guy. In the case of BEOWULF this is subtle but I believe definitely intentional, it’s a theme throughout the movie that the men refuse to take responsibility for their actions. In a 300 movie everybody is just gonna assume it’s stupidity, but whatever the intent I appreciate that both movies take on the perspective of the Spartans telling the stories, and treat their macho world view as reality.

When the first one came out I wondered why Snyder didn’t seem to care how the politics of the story would be read in a time of war. By now it’s easier for me to just enjoy it as a tale of extreme macho in a heightened world. But if any warmongers embrace it as a sincere statement of their philosophy like they did the first one I’d be interested to hear their thoughts on the use of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” (remixed with movie score) on the end credits. Are they really happy that “the war machine keeps turning” as their “generals gather in their masses, just like witches at black masses”? I don’t know, is it possible that Murro sees the black humor behind these brave heroes speaking nobly to promote endless cyclical brutality?

It doesn’t really matter, because it’s there. I kinda loved this movie.

acr_300-2

Historical note: Most of these war pigs would have disspointed Leonidas, because they didn’t die in battle. King Darius died from a disease (not an arrow) some time after (not during) the Battle of Marathon. Themistocles died of natural causes (or suicidal poisoning according to some legends) at the age of 65. Xerxes was assassinated by a bodyguard (with help from a eunuch – I know this isn’t p.c., but you guys know how the fuckin eunuchs are). Legend has Artemisia (who really was a female naval commander, so good for her) jumping off a cliff over a dude, though in my opinion that’s bullshit and she’s still alive and even looks pretty good for her age. Long live Artemisia.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 at 2:01 pm and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

53 Responses to “300: Rise of an Empire”

  1. The Original... Paul

    March 11th, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    I didn’t see the first one. Is this one worth seeing anyway? It’s had some pretty good reviews from all quarters, but from your review I get the impression it ties in pretty closely to a movie that I’ve never seen (and honestly have no interest in seeing). I know you say this one’s great, Vern, but how much of that is down to the strengths of Green’s performance and this movie in particular, and how much to the links between this and the previous movie?

    One thing in your review makes me seriously pause though. I know not everyone feels this way, but “plentiful slo-mo” is not a recommendation to somebody whose memory is long enough to remember early American-era John Woo and “Lord of the Rings”. I still maintain that slow motion shots looked like they’d be the death of action cinema a few years before shakycam turned up to steal that particular crown. I mean, I love “Face/Off” as much as the next guy (assuming the next guy really, really loves “Face/Off”) but the opening and closing action scenes had so much slow-motion going on, at times they felt like they’d never end.

  2. Best action film of 2014 so far, best comedy film of 2014 so far,
    best feminist statement film of 2014 so far, best cinematography of 2014 so far…

    You can accuse 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE of being too reliant on computerized camera/editing/splatter/lighting/sets, but you can’t accuse that reliance of being an example of laziness. Rob Rodriguez should take fucking notes.

    I’m a fan of this sepremidquel, which is also nicely humorously explored as a sidequel here.

  3. This next guy really, really loves FACE/OFF.

  4. The more I think about it, the more I more I kinda love this movie, too. The variety in the combat styles and locations, the improvements in the CGI environments and gore effects, and especially Eva Fuckin’ Green, Goth Queen Supreme, make this one an improvement over the original, which I have always been a big fan of. The action was so well thought out, with every move not just a badass pose, but a natural response to the one that came before it. And thanks to the much derided speed-ramping, you can see the logic behind these fighting strategies. You see the opponents coming up behind, the two on the left, the one on the right, and watch as the hero positions himself to block one attacker, dodge another, and deal a killing blow to a third. It’s all right there. It’s not trying to hide all the good stuff in a blur of camera jiggle. They put in the elbow grease, and the results are all laid out for you to enjoy.

    And that sex scene is a joy to behold. Not only is it nice to look at for two very obvious reasons, but it’s also a great character moment for both of the people involved. It says everything you need to know about these two people and why they’d be attracted to each other and why their relationship is fated to end in death. When’s the last time a sex scene in a Hollywood blockbuster-type movie actually illuminated something important about the participants?

    This is solid genre workmanship right here. I really couldn’t have asked for more.

    Except maybe a Goat Man cameo. He was my favorite character from the first one.

  5. **The Persian ninjas with the scary metal masks are back and used for an amazing sight gag.**

    Hope this is a reference to the sex scene reaction from Artemisia’s map room guards, b/c this is my favorite snippet of cinema in a long time.
    Thank christ those “immortals” (who have their names put to the test — and fail! in the Snyder original) aren’t loquacious, lest we be bestowed with a hacky “I’ll have what Eva Green is having” moment.

  6. From the review Mouth linked to: “The terms “speed ramping” and “slo-mo” have somehow gained negative connotations, but that is because a lot of moviegoers are imbeciles.”

    I tend to agree with this. No offense to Paul, who know’s he’s crazy and seems to be perfectly fine with it, but why wouldn’t you want to use techniques that allow complex movements that happen faster than the human eye can perceive to be more clearly communicated to the audience? The action scenes in 300 RISING: RISE OF THE RISEN are crystal-clear, but you play them at full speed and a lot of both the poetry and the science of combat would be lost in a blur of limbs in motion.

  7. Eva Green. No words.

    I would go a step farther and say that Green completely dwarfs Stapleton. Stapleton is a really fun actor – he was great in Animal Kingdom, and is pretty sexy and John McClane-y in Strike Back, an absolutely perfect show crafted by the action gods.

    But he’s a bit too smart and understated for this role. Gerard Butler is more of a blunt instrument in the first movie, which felt necessary to the story. You would follow a macho dude like that into battle. But Stapleton seems like the kind of guy who, if making a big speech, would convince me to do my taxes early. If this guy tried to get me to march into certain death, I’d be like, see ya. When paired against Green (who eats him whole), you completely forget he’s onscreen.

  8. Paul, to answer your questions, I don’t think you need to see the first one for this to work, though seeing both adds more meaning to it. However I don’t think you should watch either of them because you have the weird slow motion thing and slow motion is a major component of the style of both movies.

  9. That Ruthless review linked above says it all, but I’ll add that yeah, the weaving of 300 with its sepremidquel results in an unfortunate juxtaposition of Gerard Butler giving an ultimate mega(?)-macho-performance with whatshisface giving an ultimate ‘Please do me, Eva Green’ performance. We would say there’s no comparison, except that the 2 concurrently set films demand there be a comparison.

    I’d dismount my horse to be double-penetrated by Artemisia’s blades any day.
    #300
    #NotGay
    #InTheNavy

  10. This talk about speedramping I usually associate with Guy Ritchie. It is especially deployed to enjoyable effects in his two SHERLOCK HOLMES movies. It works as this ridiculous device to convey Sherlocks almost supernatural deduction skills which fits the tongue-in-cheek aspect of the films. The sequel did it even better,cranking up the absurdity of it with an hilarious showdown between Holmes and Moriarty.

  11. Face/Off is one of the all-time great American action movies, and one of the holy trinity of 90s American action movies. The other two of course being Speed and Stone Cold.

  12. I really enjoyed this despite, or maybe because, it was very stupid. Lots of awesomely stupid shots of galley slaves being whipped, despite looking like they were already rowing really hard, and tons of shots of massive Persian fleets dwarfing the 5 or 6 rafts the Greeks had. I think my favorite scene was when the main good dude was giving a speech before the final battle, and the bad chick was also giving a motivational speech despite outnumbering them 10000 to 1. Really great and stupid.

    Story wise, did anyone else get the impression the Spartans were dickholes? I remember in the first one the Spartan queen’s whole thing was that she wanted to fight the Persians, but when Athens dude asks for her helps she’s all, “nah, we’re good, thanks” and this causes ***SPOILER*** the Persians to sack Athens. Seems like it could have been stopped had the Spartans not been jerks, or at least been consistent for five minutes.

    Good movie, though. Way bloodier than the first, the shot through the floor as a dude’s blood and guts fell on top of the camera was pretty gruesome, and managed to offer something different while still being enough like the original. Might be the rare sequel that is better than first. Way less of a fascist propaganda piece than the first, at least.

  13. Between Lena Headey and Eva Green we are basically living in a Golden Age of scary-hot chicks.

  14. I have never found Lena Headey attractive. TBH there aren’t too many actresses around that I could say I find seriously attractive. Eva Green is definitely on that short list for me though. Might go see this just for her.

    I wonder how long before Frank Miller will go and rush out a graphic novel about the battle of plataea just to complete a trilogy.

  15. The Original... Paul

    March 12th, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Vern, Mouth and Majestyk:

    This “weird slow-motion thing” is there because I grew up at a time where just about every other movie seemed to wholly abuse the technique, to the point where it felt like you were watching entire action sequences in slow-mo. It’s just got to the point, for me, where I’ve seen it be so horribly overused so many times that it seems cheesy, no matter how well it’s used.

    As a direct result of this, I’ve got very little tolerance for slo-mo. Honestly, if you gave me a choice between that and shakycam, it’d be like offering me a choice between rhino turd and elephant turd. Doesn’t matter which one you choose, you still end up eating shit! The best I can say about it is that shakycam’s got so damn bad, it pretty much dwarfs any problems I’ve ever had with slow-motion shots. (That attitude lasts about as long as it takes me to actually go back and watch one of those films from the early-late nineties, at which point I remember just WHY I hated slow-motion so much back then.)

    I also find it generally immersion-breaking. The slow-motion shots are literally the only problem I have with the Wu Jing / Donnie Yen fight in “Kill Zone”, which probably remains the best single fight scene I’ve seen in any movie over the last several years (at any rate it’s the one I’ve watched the most).

    I have no problems with it, mind you, when it’s used during a genuinely epic moment – as long as it’s a one-off thing, to “highlight the epicness” if you like. The first time Travolta walks out as the villain in “Face / Off” (or even “Broken Arrow”, which I think might have used almost exactly the same shot for the same actor doing the same thing?), or when Gandalf reappears as Gandalf the White, or even when the drillers walk out as astronauts for the first time in “Armageddon” (and yeah, I know “Armageddon” is terrible, but I’d still rather be on the side of the apologists for those first forty minutes or so) – these are all great moments.

    But for every one of those moments, we seem to have gotten twenty like:
    – Blade putting on his sunglasses in “Blade 2”. (Seriously, I know I’ve said this many times before, but FUCK that scene. And I actually like “Blade 2” quite a bit, but still, FUCK that scene.)
    – Tom Cruise’s hair, plus doves, in “Mission: Impossible 2”. (I kinda love this one actually… but it’s just so goddamn dumb and I had so many high hopes for this franchise. Anyway…)
    – Cage / Travolta doing slo-mo backward jumps in “Face / Off”. (Way to stop an action scene dead.)
    – People running at walls at Helm’s Deep! For three solid hours! Or at least that’s what it feels like!

    …And many, many more.

    I know this is all personal preference, but that’s kinda the point… I just saw too many films during my “formative years” where slow-motion seemed to be used to highlight every other scene’s “epic” nature – whether or not it was actually epic – to the point that it just got horribly cheesy, immersion-breaking, and flow-breaking. Especially during action scenes. Nowadays I feel it’s largely used much more effectively, but unfortunately I can’t just turn that instinct “off”. Whenever I see it used in a way I feel is inappropriate, especially during action scenes, it seems to flick a “red switch” in my brain. As a result my tolerance for it is pretty low.

    Anyway, Lena Headey… not “conventionally” attractive (although a charming lady nonetheless) but I think it works for her. I think she’s consistently shown herself to be a talented actress and it would kinda suck if she were forced continually into the “love-interest” roles. She seems to get a lot more interesting stuff to do than that.

  16. Paul – what is your real issue here? Do not let a few bad movies ruin the good ones. Slo – mo can be used to good effect in the right context.

  17. For example – The one of a kind FACE/OFF( I agree with Dirk above, one of the best actions of the 90’s, and which you mentioned in a sort of positive way..I think?).

    And not just for action, slo-mo is DePalma’s style of choice for wringing out suspense. The train station scene in UNTOUCHABLES. The pigs blood in CARRIE. Angie Dickinson’s nude body double soaping up her boobs in the shower in DRESSED TO KILL. I aint complaining about that one at all.

  18. In 1996, Paul saw footage of women wearing neon bikini bottoms that stretched above their waistbones, and ever since then he’s been unable to look at unbelievably hot half-naked females without complaining about poor lingerie fashion tastes, because “formative years” trauma.

  19. The Original... Paul

    March 12th, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Darren – I agree with you. My problem isn’t with it as a tool, it’s just that it’s been overused to the extent that it’s almost an automatic turn-off. Hell, the pig’s blood scene in Carrie is an excellent use of slo-mo – probably better than any of the “good” ones that I mentioned above, in fact. It’s one single horrifically drawn-out shot. (Wes Craven tried to do something with Drew Barrymore’s corpse at the start of “Scream”, but according to the DVD commentary, the censors wouldn’t let the slow shot be used – it was too graphic – so they sped it up. Thus showing what slow motion CAN do.)

    That scene from “Carrie” kinda makes my point though. If you’re going to use slow motion, use it to really hammer home the impact of a scene like the falling blood in “Carrie”. Don’t use it for eeevvveeerrryyy ooottthhheeerrr ssswwwooorrrddd ssswwwiiinnnggg. ‘Cause that just breaks the flow and slows things down.

    Mouth – That is not even close to being true. The bikini bottoms in question were not “neon”.

  20. I hear what your saying Paul. For me, as a personal preference, I would rather enjoy the slo-mo carnage on display in a movie like 300, as opposed to the what-the-fuck-did-I-just-see of the battle scenes in something like CENTURION.

    It really is a waste of a good story when the film-makers fuck up their comprehension. DOOMSDAY is guilty also. That coulda been a contender for post-apocalyptic action film of the decade. BOOK OF ELI wins by default.

  21. I watched every single episode of SPARTACUS with a big ol’ smile on my face, so I’m down with some gratuitous slo-mo. I used to joke that Spartacus always won because he had the magical ability to slow down time with his battle cries.

    Shit, I must have seen a million different iterations of that slow-mo-leap-while-stabbing-downwards-with-a-sword, possibly the least practical fight move ever, and I enjoy it every single time.

  22. There are exceptions, but generally I like watching fight scenes because I like seeing the human body do awesome stuff. Even though I know bugger all about martial arts, I like admiring the form and extension of the actors, the personality as expressed through their movement and the lyrical flow of the combat. Slow-motion is a pretty effective tool to communicate that stuff.

  23. Slow motion can definitely be overdone when it’s used to extend dramatic moments. (See: the post-FRIGHTENERS output of Peter Jackson) I generally prefer those scenes to be underplayed. But for action, I pretty much can’t get enough. I want to see those beautiful tableaus it captures in the middle of all that violent chaos. I think it’s an appropriate meeting of form and function, because not only does it look cool (never something to be underestimated) but it’s true to life, too. Time really does seem to slow down when the shit hits the fan. It’s over in an instant but it seems to take forever. Slow-mo taps into that natural reflex. Compare that to shakycam, which is supposedly more realistic but is actually a distancing technique. It’s supposed to feel like a documentary, but that just makes you more aware that what you’re watching is a film. It puts an extra layer of unreality away between you and the experience.

  24. Maj: Have you watched the HANNIBAL tv show yet? Season 2 opens with a slow-motion enhanced fight between Mads Mikkelson and Morpheus that’s pretty cool.

  25. CrustaceanLove – That’s the best show on TV right now hands down.

  26. I saw the pilot of HANNIBAL and can´t say I am very interested in continue watching it. Looked more like poor mans SHERLOCK to me.

  27. The Original... Paul

    March 13th, 2014 at 3:03 am

    “Slow motion can definitely be overdone when it’s used to extend dramatic moments. (See: the post-FRIGHTENERS output of Peter Jackson) I generally prefer those scenes to be underplayed. But for action, I pretty much can’t get enough.”

    See, I’m exactly the opposite. Use the technique in something like the “hair / doves shot” from MI:2 (in all fairness, Tom Cruise did have really, really nice hair in that movie, why not focus on it for a few seconds?) or the “drillers walking out as astronauts” scene in Armageddon, and I can laugh at their awesome ridiculousness. But keep slowing things down in the middle of action scenes and it screams desperation. “Hey! Look at me! Look at my pretty violence! Look how artfully I’ve staged this jumping sword stab, and how expressive the expression on the pretty-boy lead actor’s face is! Look at me! Look at me for ever! Wheeeeee!”

    Come to think of it, slow motion really is the Blue Mohawk of editing techniques, isn’t it? (See Vern’s “Domino” review if you don’t get the reference there.)

    Or look at the famous one-take scene in “Hard Boiled”, which contains both a good and a bad example.
    Good example: freezing on the cop’s shocked face when he realises the guy he’s just killed is another cop. Really hammers the point home.
    Bad example: freezing on two men swapping positions in a corridor. There’s no emotional beat here, no moment of realisation, nothing like that. It just slows down the scene for no good reason that I can see.

    Anyway I’m gonna shut up about this, ’cause I was actually going to go and see “300” today. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be an afternoon showing at my local. Might have to go to *shudders…* the OTHER multiplex instead. The one whose unholy name I will not mention here, but that I stopped going to because of their awful consumer-unfriendly business practices. Might wait for a showing at a decent time instead.

  28. I agree with Paul in that the overuse of slo-mo can get very tiresome, and I particularly do not like speed-ramping (I prefer a cut to slo-mo). That said, it is a very effective cinematic tool in the right hands, especially for suspense or highlighting an emotional moment.

    My favourite slo-mo scene is when Ripley dreams that a chestburster is coming out of her near the start of Aliens. Prolonges the moment, highlights the horror and made my heart jump up into my mouth for all the right reasons.

    That said, it is not necessary to generat suspense. Look at the awesome chainsaw sequence in Scarface, by a director particularly known for his effective deployment of cinematic techniques. There is little slo-mo in the build up to Angel getting chopped up, but I sat there thinking I was going to have a heart attack the first time I saw it.

    I think my point is that a great director is a great director, and he or she knows what cinematic tools to use at the right time in the right way to maximise the moviegoing experience for the viewer.

  29. Jareth Cutestory

    March 13th, 2014 at 7:04 am

    Paul: I tend to agree with you about the over-use of slow motion, though I also have to agree with other posters that the technique can be used to great effect. I especially like it when slow motion is used to depict the perceptions of a particular character in a heightened situation, like in the Judge Dredd remake. CHOCOLATE used slow motion so well that I only realized some of its most effective shots used the technique on second viewing (like when Jija’s dad is losing his sword fight and spitting up blood). Same with THE RAID.

    But yeah, I agree with any complaint that SUCKER PUNCH used slow motion like a teenager uses cheap cologne.

  30. Shoot McKay – The show gets better to the point that when you get to the season finale you’re fucking floored. The only real issue I had with the first season was the serial killer of the week concept and a lot of the procedural show tropes it dealt with in the FBI scenes. Thankfully that has been corrected this season and the show is now a lot more focused in it’s narrative.

    Honestly people talk about GAME OF THRONES and THE WALKING DEAD as the best shows right now and I tried to watch those and failed to get into them. With HANNIBAL on the other hand it was like finding a diamond in the rough. Finally another show besides IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA that I could follow season after season now that BREAKING BAD is gone.

  31. I haven’t seen HANNIBAL yet, but I intend to. I just finally finished DEXTER (a suitably ludicrous and ill-considered end to one of the most ludicrous and ill-considered shows of all time) so I need a new “secret serial killer works with the police” show to fill the void. Does anyone know if it’s streaming anywhere?

  32. I think it’s on Amazon Prime.

  33. The killer-of-the-week police procedural aspect of HANNIBAL is totally unimportant now, like a vestigial organ from a much more generic show. There are still serial killers committing ridiculously grotesque crimes, but they are only there to move the plot along, provide cool imagery/symbolism and reflect things about the main characters. The identity of the latest killer was almost completely brushed off as unimportant.

    What I’m finding hilarious about this season is Will Graham’s almost constant stream of visitors. He must be really sick of standing in that tiny cage.

  34. I’m cool with HANNIBAL starting out more episodic. Most shows begin that way, using self-contained stories to keep from alienating new viewers and to not have to commit to much longterm plotting before all the bugs are worked out of the character dynamics. It’s a normal part of a show’s evolution.

    To tell you the truth, I kind of miss case-of-the-week television. It seems like you can get it in sitcoms and generic, soulless police procedurals, but not in so-called “prestige” TV. It’s a shame, because it’s a format that TV as a medium is uniquely suited for. There’s no doubt that the form has been greatly improved by the last decade-and-change’s swing toward serialization, but I think it’s worth noting that, many times, a show’s best episodes will be one-offs. BUFFY, ANGEL, and THE X-FILES, for instance, are often noted for expanding the use of long-term world-building on TV, but it’s the standalone eps like “Hush,” “Smile Time,” and “Triangle” that people really remember, while the “mythology” episodes are less gratifying to revisit because they’re so tied in to the big picture. It’s sort of like how “waiting for the trade” has basically killed single issues of comic books–why bother making each chapter a gem when it’s just a tiny piece of the puzzle? I think the long game is important, but so is just crafting a solid, self-contained 45 minutes of TV.

  35. Mr. Majestyk – I like to see a balance between the two. Nice self contained stories that still compliment the greater narrative in their own unique way. Like how Grant Morrison’s BATMAN & ROBIN was based around quick one and done 3 issue arcs that still added up to something greater in the end when pieced together like a puzzle.

    Which is something that HANNIBAL seems to be doing this season. Despite Crustacean noting that the latest HANNIBAL serial killer didn’t have a very notable presence they still wisely stretched his subplot across 2 episodes and used his presence and role to both highlight new elements in the characterization of Dr. Lecter & add a new layer to the dynamic between Lecter and Will Graham. That’s the way it’s supposed to be done.

  36. HANNIBAL has really seemed to have learned from not just the latest procedural shows, but the movies that stood in the shadows of MANHUNTER and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. There have been little winks and nods to all the Lecter movies, and even to other films like SE7EN, but done in a way that stands apart from something like the awful THE FOLLOWING and the latter seasons of DEXTER.

    It’s two episodes in, and it’s already a strong contender for my favorite show of the year so far.

  37. I agree that “one-off” episodes by themselves has a great value. A short contained story has a greater, more immediate impact, than a big arc. X-FILES I think thrived on the monster-of-the-week episodes. The “inbred” episode was especially shocking and comedic at the same time. It is an unforgettable episode.

    But I can´t honestly say any other show who did that on the same level. I seem to struggle coming up with shows (never seen BUFFY enough or ANGEL ), but JUSTIFIED has a few one-offs that I really enjoyed. “Long in the tooth”, “Blowback” and “Hatless” are great.

  38. grimgrinningchris

    March 14th, 2014 at 7:31 am

    I agree fully with Mr Majestk. Another example is CARNIVALE. the more standalone episodes have infinitely more rewatch value than the ones that focus on the overall mythology. Though in that case, since the show was cut short, the overall mythology never even got its proper payoff, so maybe that isn’t such a good exams after all.

  39. “Bad example: freezing on two men swapping positions in a corridor. There’s no emotional beat here, no moment of realisation, nothing like that. It just slows down the scene for no good reason that I can see.”

    I know you’re a slowmobophobe, Paul, but that shot is hardly unmotivated. The point is that these two men, who started out as adversaries, are now functioning as a smoothly operating machine, occupying each other’s positions instinctively. The switching of sides is emblematic of the perennial Woo motif of the fluidity of identity, with cops and criminals, friends and enemies, bleeding into each other until one is indistinguishable from the other. It’s basically Woo’s entire oeuvre distilled into one shot.

    Unless that’s a completely different shot I’m thinking of, in which case maybe it just looked cool?

  40. Really want to see this one now. I thought the politics of the first film were kind of confusing. We will not be invaded because we are free;except we report to the king, who reports to the senate that no one mentions ever voting for, and for real big questions we have to do this really dangerous mountain climb to see a bunch of geriatric soothsayers who follow the dance moves of a young lady they sexually assualt to predict the future. Yeah a true vision of a free society there. In that world, I’d rather be a senator, I’d like to wear a toga with blue nursery colors trim than a speedo and a cape all the time, just to have pockets and not get cold.

    Since slo mo, Robert Rodriguez and television have been mentioned I feel like ramblin’. Got the American Bluray of The Grandmaster and god is it good. Really good slo mo used in just the right way. It was strange to compare it to the non Weinstein international Berlin festival whatever it was version I saw. Little clips reveal that so many fights have been excised, I hope the rumors of a four hour version are true. The bluray behind the scenes show Wong Kar-Wai going on a pilgrimage to meet the different masters from the north, he interviews Jet Li’s master! A making of that interviews Bruce Lee’s daughter, Keanu Reeves, Elvis Mitchell and The RZA is a winner in my book.

    Saw the first episode of From Dusk ’til Dawn the series on the El Rey network. For the first time in years Robert Rodriguez has gone outside his house to shoot, and the results so far are pretty damn good. The El Rey network will be screening lots of kung fu and Godzilla flicks and EXTREME! sports (there is also a show called Texas Justice, but instead of hangings and showdowns, it is pretty much Houston small claims court, rather disappointing). They will be showing Escape From New York, Dressed to Kill, Reservoir Dogs, El Mariachi, The Street Fighter trilogy and all kinds of cool stuff. Vern really needs to be on this network. I want to come home, turn on my tv and see Vern introduce Road Games.

  41. The Original... Paul

    March 14th, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Majestyk – no, I think it’s the same shot. At which point the men have already fought their way down several corridors, got into an elevator, had the first part of the “was he a cop?” discussion, blasted their way OUT of the elevator, and started the second part of the discussion.

    The way to convey what you’ve just described, ALL of it, would be to show the men moving, fluidly, as a unit. (Which is exactly what Woo has been doing up until this point.) Not to stop ’em dead.

    It’s just one of those cases where the use of slow-motion seems bizarre to me in that it stops the action cold without accomplishing anything. Everything you’ve just said has already been shown by the men working as a unit at normal speed. (Except the bit about the fluidity of identity… which to be honest doesn’t come across to me at all in ANY of the scene. Even re-watching it with that in mind, it still doesn’t. There’s definitely a shared SYMPATHY between the two men, as evidenced by both the dialogue that they have and the more “protective” tactics that they adopt as the scene progresses, but again that has nothing whatsoever to do with the corridor slow-mo shot.)

    One of the many, many great things about that scene in “Hard Boiled” is that there’s an emotional tension that grows as the action escalates. The freeze on the actor’s (Leung’s? Can’t remember which of them had that moment now) face when he sees he’s killed a cop puts a stamp on how much this affects him. The way that both the action and dialogue progress from that point on develop this theme, giving us (the viewer) an extra source of tension, and something of a cathartic release at the very end when both points are resolved. Again, I don’t see how that moment of slow-motion in the corridor after the lift scene helps this in any way. It’s not as though a break is needed for the audience to “get a handle on the situation” – we’ve just had that, in the form of the conversation inside the lift. So why is that extra moment of slow-mo there?

    I should say that I’m ripping into this scene pretty badly but I do love it nonetheless – probably more than I love the film as a whole, in fact. (“Kill Zone” and “Infernal Affairs” are more my taste in Asian cop movies than “Hard Boiled”.) The scene isn’t ruined by the introduction of one little bit of unnecessary slow-motion. It does, however, have the effect of taking me “out of the action” – even if it’s only for a very short time. With a scene that great, anything that breaks the immersion is going to be overly noticeable. Which doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still a great, great scene.

  42. Will I ever see a character as cool as Artemisia in a film again?

    Somebody was complaining to me about the historical liberties these films take and I think it’s a strange complaint. There’s a big difference between a movie like 300, with gods and monsters, and a movie like Lincoln which tells you that this and that state voted to uphold slavery when they really didn’t. I guess the idea though is that “the real story was already badass enough” and now we’ll never see a straight, believable version of that. But you can always just read Herodotus (who isn’t 100% straight and believable either).

    I think Themistokles’ less-badass-than-Gerard-Butler routine works because it helps reconcile the fact that the Athenian’s role in the first film were basically to be the butt of a joke as people who have professions other than grunting. And now are supposed to be the heroes of this one (but let’s be real, Eva Green is the only character anybody is rooting for). So it’s okay for them to be more subdued.

    The scene where she’s bewitching Xerxes as he first appears before the Persians in god mode and whispers the words that he booms for the crowd was so awesome it almost made my chest cave in.

  43. Saw it today. Really enjoyed it, though there were a few things I have questions about:
    -So Xerxes is on mystical old world steroids, right? Because he’s clearly a normal sized guy in the early portion of his backstory, before becoming a deep voiced giant.
    -Why did Artemesia seem way more upset over the death of her king than the death of the guy who adopted and raised her?
    -It was pretty funny how it took Artemesia herself to notice there was a decidedly not-Persian spy on board her ship.

  44. Just saw this one. Eva Green stole this movie and my heart, to the film’s detriment. The battle between Artemesia and Themistokles should have felt like the clashing of two worthy adversaries, but poor Stapleton wasn’t enough of a character or enough of a rampant scenery-chewer to withstand Eva Green’s assault of awesomeness. I don’t know if his blandness was intentional, their way of creating a contrast between the Greeks and the Spartans, but if so it didn’t work. They’re still just angry guys swinging swords in their underwear. Although to be fair, this time they had blue capes. Totally different. The film just seemed so lopsided in Artemesia’s favour that it lost my interest whenever Themistokles was on-screen. The fight scenes were awesome though.

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  46. Is there a more satisfying double-feature than 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire? Part II works on so many levels in relation to the first one – villain origin prequel, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern-style sidequel, ante-upping sequel. Also meta commentary/deconstruction/response to the over-the-top machismo of part I. Stapleton is serviceable and likable as the lead, but his blandness seems almost intentional to Butler’s larger-than-life scenery-chewing. I actually wish they made Stapleton less bad-ass, since I think his whole appeal is that he’s more of a regular guy, yet he does more superhuman feats and kills way more people than Butler.

    The action sequences are incredible, and Eva Green is such an instant classic, iconic character – it’s too bad the finale is kinda limp and I didn’t like the way her story is resolved. SPOILER – The movie sets her up to turn on Xerxes which would admittedly be predictable, but there just seemed something wrong and anticlimactic about her defeat. I was actually legitimately saddened by it – probably because it comes right after a surprisingly touching line by Stapleton – “I would rather live free than die as a slave….even if I was chained to you” which is I guess this series’ version of “You Complete Me”. I guess there’s something to be said about Artemesia sticking to her guns and going out with no compromises, but it’s still dramatically unsatisfying.

    Btw, I had no idea this was a hit – I actually for some reason assumed this was a bomb – hopefully they can make another sequel in a couple of years and find a way to get Green back in it.

  47. UNDISPUTED 2 and 3 have recently hit my sweet spot.

  48. It was a hit? That’s weird. I talk it up to people all the time and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered somebody who’s seen it.

  49. Well, it debuted on #1 but all in all earned worldwide only twice its (surprisingly low) budget, while barely breaking even in the US. I wouldn’t call that a hit.

  50. The funny thing is I assumed it was a bomb until Vern’s review called it “successful”, which made me look it up on boxofficemojo. I know breaking $100 million isn’t such a crazy feat anymore, but for an R-rated sequel to a 7 year-old movie with no stars, I’d say breaking $100 million qualifies it as a hit.

    Fun fact: I only know one other person who’s seen this too, yet this made more than movies everybody I know has seen like Edge of Tomorrow, Purge 2, and Hercules. Plus it somehow made more than movies that I clearly remember were hits, like The Equalizer, Fury and Non-Stop.

  51. I gave this one a chance a few months back. Back in my Snyder-hating days (when everyone loved him and marketing called him a ‘visionary’) I remember really disliking 300 so I passed on the sequel (I’ve come around to Snyder and now everyone thinks he is the Antichrist thus continuing friends insisting I am a contrarian (if I am, I promise you I am not doing so knowingly). I got in an Eva Green mood and rented this and SIN CITY: A DAME TO KILL FOR and watched them back-to-back and I was blown away by how good this one was. I mean if I would have bothered to see it in theaters it would have been one of my favorite movies that year good. It is hands-down the best movie Snyder has his name attached too to bad he didn’t direct it (though if it is revealed he ghost-directed it Steven Spielberg/Tsui Hark-style I would not be surprised in the slightest).

    I echo the ‘never met anyone who has seen it’ comments.

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