The first 300 was an epic translation of the 1998 Frank Miller Graphic novel. He based some of it loosely on the 1962 movie The 300 Spartans and some of it loosely on pieces of the original ancient Greek legend, which tells the tale of King Leonidas of Sparta, who in 480 BC took 300 of his best soldiers to fend off the incoming Persian invasion led by Prince Xerxes.
The movie itself was beautifully shot, and there were many sequences that were frame for frame images from the comic, which I read prior to seeing the movie. This resulted in the movie being exceptionally stylized with a unique and new look and feel. It’s true to the comic, so, like all Frank Miller works (see Sin City), was very graphically violent and gory. It was a fairly opened and closed story - Leonidas leads his men into a bit of a Kobayashi Maru, in which they battle the 8 foot god-king Xerxes and his hordes, including all kinds of nonsense and monsters. They hold them back for some time – then eventually lose.
This new movie is directed by Noam Murro, an Iraeli director, as his first big-time movie. It is produced by Snyder, and uses some of the same technological flashy pieces that the first had. The main issue with that is that when the first one came out, the super-stylized gore and alternation between super slo-mo and fast action was new, and people hadn’t seen it before. Since then, it has been used and over-used in all kinds of movie and TV shows. The advantage is that this one changes the scenery, and takes place mostly on the Aegean Sea.
The timeline is a little strange, it is not a prequel or sequel to the original 300 – it takes place at the same time. The movie opens with Leonidas’s wife Gorgo telling her men about the Battle of Marathon, and the death of the Persian King Darius by the Athenian Greek hero Themistokles. Darius dies in front of his son Xerxes, and his father, as he is dying, tells him to pull back, saying that “only the gods could defeat the greeks.” Well, Darius’s creepy as hell naval commander Artemisia tells Xerxes to become a god – thus creating the 8 foot god-king that we are familiar with.
Themistokles asks all of Greece to lend him what they can in the way of navies, so that he can meet Artemisia’s forces on the sea. Most city states give what they can, except for Sparta, who feel they are already stretched thin, in dealing with the Persians at the hot gates. Themistokles uses some ingenious naval tricks and wins a few battles, impressing Artemisia, who brings him on board her ship for some negotiating…and by negotiating, I mean some really rough sex.
He still refuses to surrender to her and rule at her side, so she kicks him off her boat and sends some explosive ancient navy seals over to his fleet, destroying almost everything. Themistokles is just about out of ideas, and heads to Athens to try to get more help, learning that the 300 have fallen. He once again asks Gorgo for help, who refuses one more time, then heads back out to face Artemisia one more time. We see Gorgo giving the speech she was giving at the beginning, and finally she and the Spartan navy (which seems to be huge, where did they get all those people?) show up to help the Greeks.
- Sullivan Stapleton, an Australian actor, plays Themistokles. He does a fine job, but does not have the charisma of Gerard Butler. In a way, that works, because Themistokles is a different type of person than Leonidas, but in another way, it doesn’t quite work, because he has to carry this movie.
- Stapleton’s averageness is all the more obvious because Eva Green as Artemisia steals this movie. She’s manipulative, evil, and incredibly watchable and charismatic. She looks like she’s having a blast in this and she makes Artemisia an unapologetic badass. Fantastic. Also – the armor she wears at the end has what I would describe as a dragon-y sort of spine to it? Impressive.
- Speaking of unapologetic badasses, Lena Headey gets a bit more to do in this movie as Queen Gorgo than she did in the first. Once she finally decides to help Themistokles, she comes in angry and fully armed.
- Hans Matheson plays Aesyklos, one of Themistokles’s top men. He does a good job of attempting to remind Themistokles that they may not have a chance in this, but then supporting him anyway.
- David Wenham is the other returning character from 300 – which makes sense, since he’s the one who made it out of the first. He’s very intimidating in his eye patch, but if you want to see him really out of character, re-watch Stephen Sommers’s Van Helsing – he’s pretty hilarious in that.
- Rodrigo Santoro gets a full couple of scenes not in the Xerxes get-up before Artemisia sends him to wander the desert, and he enters a mystical cave pool, then exits as the god-king that we remember from the first movie.
Because that’s usually how mystical desert cave pools work, right? Apparently they hook you up with crazy facial piercings as well.
- Andrew Tiernan is back as the hunchback Ephialtes – and if there was a character I did not want to see more of, it was that crazy hunchback. But, props to whoever put together the prosthetic – because it’s impressive.
Overall – it’s short, it’s entertaining, and it looks great in 3D. Check it out – if you liked the first one, you’ll like this one, but it’s not as good, just because it’s not as new.
6 out of 10. Gained points for Artemisia and her navy seals. Lost points for the hunchback. Gained points for Gorgo finally showing up with the Spartan navy, but lost points for her taking way too long to decide to help. Gained points for all the fancy naval maneuvering that Themistokles put together, but then lost points for the one scene with insane sea monsters. This whole movie takes place at sea – why is there only one scene with insane sea monsters?
Bonus Video 1: Everything wrong with the first 300!
Bonus Video 2: Sin City – the other frame for frame Frank Miller movie - the sequel will be out later this year, so check this out if you haven't already.
Bonus Video 2: Van Helsing, just because.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews.