I hate cool.

Actually, what I really hate are critics who use the word cool, normally in praise of the overblown children’s films that clog our multiplexes. Like Stephen King, I believe writers who use the term should be made to stand in the corner and have a good long think about their contribution to the dumbing down of our culture. Unlike Stephen King, I also believe they should then be beaten with a pool ball-loaded football sock for that contribution.

Doug Liman’s thrilling, intelligent blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow apart, this year has seen a particular glut of moronic and disappointing Hollywood product, much of it Marvel-inspired, and all of it cooool. There was the latest US bastardisation of Godzilla (made by a former film school classmate, not that I’m bitter or anything…) which was waaaay cool according to most critics whose only complaint was not enough monster action despite it being peopled by Thunderbirds marionettes and boasting one of the dumbest, worst written scripts of recent memory (seriously, who put up those fucking birthday decorations?). There was The Amazing Spiderman 2 which, to paraphrase the old adage, neatly proved that more is indeed less and would perhaps have been titled The Distinctly Underwhelming Spiderman. There was X-Men: Days of Future Past which managed the astounding feat of rendering boring not only mutants, time travel and giant killer robots but also a naked, blue Jennifer Lawrence. Stripping the titular Greek demi-god of his divinity was Hercules, robots punched more robots and Mark Wahlberg wore the befuddled expression of a man who suspects he may have soiled himself but isn’t 100% sure in Transformers: Age of Extinction, Noah was a bit wet, Dawn of the Planet teenagers were still having a helluva bad time in a future dystopia in Divergent while Guardians of the Galaxy was kinda fun until it wasn’t, didn’t have anywhere near enough Karen Gillan and really made you want to dig out and rewatch Star Wars and Serenity. And then there was Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier, a live-action cartoon one critic actually described to me as being a political thriller and his generation’s All The President’s Men. That critic has made a spectacular recovery and is now eating solid food again. With the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy, most of these films felt pretty po-faced, pretty stiff, seemed to be striving for a deeper significance unwarranted by a Summer Blockbuster. Fresh to DVD and Blu-Ray, one film that certainly wasn’t po-faced however (or, crucially, aimed at children), or cool if the mostly sniffy reviews are any barometer, was Noam Murro’s bloody, fleshy 300: Rise of an Empire, both a prequel and a sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2006 300 which took the original film’s campiness and knowingly turned it all the way up to 11.

Taking up almost exactly where 300 ended with Gerard Butler and Michael ‘Tripod’ Fassbender’s corpses homoerotically riddled with arrows atop a pile of dead Greek sweaty beefcake, the film flashes back to chart Persian God-King Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) rise to deification after his father King Darius (Igal Naor) is killed and the Persian invasion force routed at the Battle of Marathon by Athenian warrior Themistokles (Animal Kingdom’s Sullivan Stapleton). Licking his wounds back in Persia, Xerxes rise to power is stage-managed by the Greek defector (and his father’s most trusted general) the fearsome Amazonian proto-Goth Artemisia (Eva Green), who seeks vengeance on the Greeks for the destruction of her village and her years of being raped and beaten as a sex slave to the Greek army before being discarded and left for dead.

After bathing in a pool of golden light at an evil health spa tended by a cave full of deformed hermits, Xerxes transforms from a callow youth into the 10-foot muscular gold-skinned god we’re familiar with from the first film, marshalls his forces and declares war. While he and his men are delayed at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae by the 300 Spartans, Artemisia and the Persian Navy attack Greece in force with only Themistokles and the rag-tag Greek Navy standing against them, setting the stage for an epic clash of civilisations that will decide the course of history.

Camper than the London Gay Men’s Chorus Yuletide Show, 300: Rise of an Empire is a bold, violent, gorgeous, glorious cheesefest that both celebrates and subverts the original film. Aping 300’s hyper-real, sepia-tinged, comic-book look and slo-mo ejaculating blood spatter, director Noam Murro keeps his tongue healthily in his cheek as he plays fast and loose with history while throwing enough dizzying carnage, gore and tits at the screen to keep any audience’s inner 13-year-old boy happy. Boats and men shatter against each other, flesh is ripped, rent and sliced, heads roll, buttocks and breasts jiggle, fat men explode and the hero rides a horse through a CGI sea battle to duel to the death with the object of his affections while War Pigs roars bombastically, Murro all the while subverting the 1st film’s dodgy politics by this time having the defenders of democracy be not the staunch, austere proto-fascists of Sparta but the common men of Greece, the inexperienced artisans and farmers Big Gerry Butler’s Leonidas disdained in the first movie, who, in time-honoured fashion, must band together against terrible odds to combat the professional soldiers of the Persian Empire. The Persians also get a (slightly) fairer crack of the whip this time too, saving the young Artemisia from a life of being gang-raped by Greek squaddies, nursing her back to health and training her to be, well, Eva Green.

Green is fantastic. While Stapleton is thoroughly serviceable as the film’s beefcake hero who’s more of a thinker than Big Gerry was, and gets a few rousing speeches and Jack O’Connell shines as an inexperienced young warrior, 300: Rise of an Empire is vessel precision-tooled to showcase the unstoppable force of nature that is Eva Green, burning up the screen as she slinks and rages across it, dressed in leather and chainmail, raccoon-eyed and often spattered with blood, snogging the disembodied heads of the men she’s just decapitated, seducing the hero in a bruising sex scene, as cutting with her tongue as with the two swords she wields. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and Green is magnetic as a woman who’s paying back that scorn with interest in a camp, demented, delicious performance that energises and drives the film and leaves the audience rooting for her justified villainy.

Bigger, bolder, sexier and bloodier than the first film, if you liked 300, chances are you’ll love Rise of an Empire. If you’re looking for a serious dissection of the Greco-Persian wars perhaps give 300: Rise of an Empire a miss in favour of Tom Holland’s excellent Persian Fire. If however you’re halfway through a six-pack and you’ve got a takeaway being delivered, 300: Rise of an Empire is perfect Saturday night viewing.



DVD Review: 300 - Rise Of An Empire
A prequel/sequel that really delivers on the entertainment scale
4.0Overall Score
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