Ah Zack Snyder, you and I have a love hate relationship. You make such visually stunning movies. You make movies so thin on plot that they are translucent. You have an eye for action that many directors would kill for, yet you cannot let us see all the action with your quick cuts and camera movements. You are a teenage boy playing out his fantasies and whims on the big screen, making money hand over fist despite all logic saying otherwise. Now, you returned to the movie that made you a Hollywood name.
7 years ago, a guy who gave us an interesting yet ultimately hollow remake of Dawn of the Dead was given a book written by the talented Frank Miller. The book was a mere 88 pages of illustration and light text. Snyder then proceeded to faithfully recreate nearly every panel of the book on screen. He proceeded to make a film with a visual style we had never seen. The usage of slow to fast combat had never quite been done in this manner. He didn’t fear blood, violence and style. He was given 65 million dollars by Warner Bros. and turned it into 210 million domestically ($456mm combined). We loved it for all it was worth and ripped it apart in the way that we do in the months to come. He has had 7 years to learn and grow as a director, writer and producer. Has he?
Perhaps so. Indicated by that he didn’t actually direct this. That task fell to unknown director Noam Murro. I don’t think he disappointed. As a writer on this Snyder once again played faithful to Millers 300 sequel “Xerxes”. He was assisted by Kurt Johnstad who apparently doesn’t have blood in his veins only testosterone. Johnstad also wrote 300 and Act of Valor prior to this. Does this man just want to write recruitment videos for the military? He’s succeeding if so. All of that said, this movie actually had more character moments in it than its predecessor but only barely. More epic speeches and only slightly less yelling. It doesn’t do much more than 300 did, but is thankfully different enough to not just rehash the last film.
What it does do however is provider Murro a perfect backdrop with which to craft the art of the film. Now this part may seem strange, but there was a time History channel showed actual history. I know, its surreal. One of the specials they had done was on the battles between Persia and Greece. Murro, Snyder and Johnstad must have seen the same special. For this movie they used actual tactics of the Greek Navy against the Persians. They used ship to ship and naval tricks and tactics used by both sides. Sadly they didn’t put in any of the biological warfare that was also used, but I will take what I can get. Yes, its hyper stylized, dramaticized and not completely historically accurate, but damn it they tried and should get credit for it.
As it comes to the acting the movies strength is here. The movie is filled mostly with relative unknowns who have had small roles in film or within TV. Returning of course is Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones if you didn’t know) who apparently must play truly bad ass women. This is not a complaint, more of a compliment. Though her part is regretfully minor she is memorable. David Wenham appears as a backdrop piece only in his role of Dilios. Rodrigo Santoro gets to go without full make up for a bit as Xerxes again, but is otherwise also little more than backdrop. Even Themistokles, our movies hero, played by Sullivan Stapleton (one of those unknowns) is only somewhat memorable.
The movie belongs to the character who was once in the title of the film, Artemisia. Eva Green (Casino Royale, Kingdom of Heaven and the abomination that was Dark Shadows) is center stage here. The camera loves her, the plot loves her and even as the villain of the movie you cheer for her. Every scene she is in, she commands. She is watchable, she is a gothic beauty that is magnificently psychotic. She’s a Wednesday Addams in Greece. All of her scenes, even one that is pretty much unnecessarily long, she is in control. She is not passive in the movie and joins the battle as quickly as anyone else. The subtle nuances she brings in the quiet moments are what make her whole and keep her from being the caricature that Xerxes was. Does it sound like I am in love? Perhaps so.
Sadly, the movie comes with its flaws as well. Much like Hercules earlier this year, apparently 3D now means you must have motes floating in every…frakking scene! Seriously, if there were that many embers of the fires in the air people would be incinerated from the inside out. It actually was distracting me in some scenes where we were supposed to focus on the characters. There’s even more blood splatter in this movie than 300 if you can believe that. I am not sure if thats good or bad yet, but it’s there. The hyper stylized colour pallette of 300 has also returned, though it doesn’t always seem present which is a little off putting. There was one scene where I am reasonably certain every character in it was a CGI render. If it wasn’t it was *really* bad CG colour correction and overlay on those characters that turned them from men to something I’d expect to see in a video game cut scene. Not good guys. Not good there at all.
There are some editing issues as well. In 300 we are introduced to characters that we are supposed to care about and we learn, care or not, their fates. Here, we are introduced to characters we are supposed to care about and apparently the editors forgot that. There are a few characters you may like, but didn’t rate high enough to know their ultimate fate; which is surprisingly in question. Also the strength and skill of both Greek and Persian changes depending on whom they are fighting. If we don’t care the persians die, if we care the greeks die. If you can tell me the characters name they are pretty awesome in battle, otherwise well…yeah.
This movie made me smile. It’s the movie I have been waiting 66 days for. The first movie this year I can say with satisfaction is GOOD. It’s not great folks, but damnit it is both good and entertaining. It has its completely over the top ridiculous moments, but it is the work of art it needed to be and is reasonably solid throughout.
That said, its not for all audiences. I won’t deny the eye candy on either side of the gender roles, but this won’t be your *average* date movie and certainly isn’t family friendly. If you have a date who wants to see this and you want to see it. Go. Dear gods go. Otherwise, just go!
If this is how the spring blockbuster season starts, there’s hope for the movies this year yet.
Next week, I feel the need, The Need for Speed. – No I don’t think it looks good, but what the hell.