I may have recently voiced too much hate for Zack Snyder as a director. Don't worry, I still think he is an amoeba of a filmmaker, not really worthy of serious time or money, but nonetheless living and capable of (film-based) reproduction. Even after railing against the original 300 and promising and equally offensive sequel, I didn't know how bad an action movie could get without Snyder directing.
But before I pick out the leather-bound and hopelessly sexist problems of 300: Rise of an Empire, let me give the 300 series the cultural history it does not deserve. Because studies have shown again and again that Americans will believe anything, here's a friendly PSA: 300 is NOT historically accurate. Although it borrows names and places from actual events in Greek and Persian history, the movies are based on comics written by Frank Miller, which are in turn based on a movie called The 300 Spartans from 1962.
Because 300 is culled from so much dated pop culture, it carries the stink of rotten wine — or some other vaguely Greek metaphor about things going horribly wrong. I watched The 300 Spartans, and found it more dull than the Oscars without John Travolta. It comes from the era of film where recreating historical events in deeply affected British accents was en vogue, and it feels like The Ten Commandments without the burning bush. Or the commandments. But for all the boredom, at least the 1962 flick focuses on seemingly noble ideals like democracy and national unity, with a little xenophobia and aren't-women-cute sexism thrown in. All told, it's relatively harmless for an early 1960's film, with less problematic scenes than your average Sean Connery Bond movie.
Frank Miller — the creator of 300, Sin City, and Elektra — took a yawn-inducing '60s flick and added blood, unnecessary nudity, and rampant sexism and xenophobia, while completely disregarding history. If you still believe that 300 is historically accurate, watch a scholar on Racialicious destroy it with facts. So the 300 movie is a sexed-up version of a sexed-up version of a bad '60s film dipped in Frank Miller's unique brand of fascism.
Miller himself promised that 300 "looks nothing like" The 300 Spartans, and I'd say that 300: Rise of an Empire looks nothing like 300. Where The 300 Spartans involves a lot of marching, heavily accented arguments, and abstinence propaganda, 300 has tits, blood, and heavily stylized fight scenes in both its comic and movie forms, and 300: Rise of an Empire has... mediocre 3D visuals with no plot tying them together. The movie (or rather, Greek-inspired bloodspurt porno) starts with a possibility for redemption from 300's terrible characterization of Persion people. The preamble explains how Xerxes turned from well-intentioned prince into god-king, which seems compelling for the first eight minutes, until you realize that his transformation to pure evil is physically complete when he turns from a light-skinned man with a beard into an exoticized person of color. I actually barfed a little in my mouth when this happened.
In keeping with the grossest of Zack Snyder traditions, Rise of an Empire also had unnecessary rape scenes, and one prolonged rough sex scene that led to the worst verbal parry in fencing history: "You fight harder than you fuck."
And where the original 300 can blame its white dominance fantasies on Frank Miller's original work, Rise of an Empire can only point to a vague yet-to-be-finished comic series. Although the IMDB page lists Frank Miller's Xerxes comic series as the source material, this series isn't finished, and has no set release date. Frank Miller had a heavy hand in the production of this film though, probably guiding Zack Snyder's script-writing hand like a spear of ignorance.
So once again, I have watched a bad movie to save you from repeating my mistakes. And luckily for fans of reasonable action movies, Rise of an Empire isn't enjoying the runaway success of the original 300. But eventually Frank Miller will finish the Xerxes comics, and then we will all have to deal with this pseudohistorical bigoted fantasy once again. And soon, Zack Miller will be the first contemporary filmmaker to feature Wonder Woman. And on both of those days, lets all just agree to remember the Spartans. Only then will we finally quit consuming their half-assed attempts at compelling heroes.
Image: Warner Bros.