Review: 300: Rise of an Empire
Today we induct another illustrious member into the not-so-secret society of actors who played great villains in terrible movies. Move over Jon Voight in Anaconda. Make some room, Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate. Back that thang up, Tim Roth in Planet of the Apes and check yourself before you wreck yourself, Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady, because Eva Green is here and she’s here to stay.
Eva Green is a firestorm in 300: Rise of an Empire, a movie that simply doesn’t deserve her. The follow-up to 2007’s stylish and vacuous sword ‘n’ sandal epic 300 is a jumbled mess of untied plot threads, confusing action sequences and overwrought exposition that doesn’t mean a damned thing once all the boats start ramming into each other. But who cares when Eva Green is around? The way she growls you’d think she was chewing on Shakespearean monologues instead of, well… this. The way she leers you’d think she was trying to pierce into the soul of mighty Zeus, and the way she fucks makes Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct look like Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct 2.
Eva Green plays Artemisia, the Greek commander of the Persian navy which – concurrently with the events of 300 – waged war on the navy of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), another hopelessly outnumbered military leader who somehow managed to hold his ground… well, water… long enough to inspire his countrymen to finally band together and fight back in force. The Battle of Thermopylae seemed like a pretty big deal in 300. Who knew that it was just a footnote in the more important story of 300: Rise of an Empire?
It’s not quite a slap in the face to fans of the original, but they’re allowed to feel a little insulted. Frank Miller’s comic book adaptation of the classic tale was always aggressively simplistic, elevating a single – albeit admittedly dramatic – military altercation into absurd hero worship, and Zack Snyder’s movie followed suit. Say what you will about 300 but it knew exactly what it was, and knew exactly how to gild that lily. There was barely enough plot for half a feature film, but Snyder speed-ramped the hell out of everything to make up for the lack of substance. His ludicrously flamboyant style was the whole damned point: it compensated for the rudimentary story by filling the frame, at least, with incredible detail. The style was the substance, and 300 was so stylish that it almost felt substantial.
But 300: Rise of an Empire makes the grievous mistake of adding more complexity but keeping the theatricality intact. Politics are debated but it’s hard to pay attention because all the dynamic imagery distracts from the words that are spoken. Backstory is offered even though it means nothing once the CGI gore starts flying. 300: Rise of an Empire is overcompensating for a problem it doesn’t even have, and by the time the script finally gives up and settles into the straightforward underdog war story we were promised, the damage has already been done, and it’s hard to tell what the hell is going on or why it really matters. All we know for sure is that the sequel to 300 thinks it’s more important than the original, and that it has nothing to back that theory up.
Nothing, that is, except for Eva Green, whose villain boasts a mad focus that pushes all the exposition and historical detail deep into the background whenever she’s on screen. It doesn’t matter where she came from, what matters is that she’s here, and she’s kicking the heroes’ asses all over the Mediterranean. She’s the undeniable focus of 300: Rise of an Empire, and the movie is utterly baffling whenever she’s not in it. By the time she’s seducing her greatest enemy, and totally getting away with it, audiences will dispel a great sigh of relief because damn it, she’s a rare and special kind of alluring and we needed some release. She’s Kathleen Turner in Body Heat wearing a human spinal cord outside of her clothes, and that makes her even more attractive.
Eva Green can’t quite save 300: Rise of an Empire. The script is too meandering and terrible to be worth saving anyway. But if you watch 300: Rise of an Empire not as an underdog story of a Greek navy outnumbered by a Persian armada, but instead as an underdog story of a single actress outnumbered lame-brained artistic decisions, you’ll find something to root for.