Not a good date night movie.
“Kill shot,” “takedown,” “finishing move”… call it what you will, it’s become a staple of the modern video game. It’s that moment in combat when your opponent is nearly beaten, and the only thing required to seal the deal is to unleash that special one-of-a-kind maneuver you’ve been reserving until the time is just right. I ask you, is there anything more satisfying than pressing the correct sequence of buttons on your controller that causes your avatar to deliver that final crushing blow? I mean, what could possibly be cooler than watching your Nordic barbarian decapitate a troll in the mountains of Skyrim, or seeing Batman cripple some nameless thug in the bowels of Arkham Asylum – all of it in glorious slow motion so you don’t miss a single drop of blood? Man oh man, if only they could find a way to translate the vicarious thrill of kill shots to the movies… wouldn’t that be the greatest?
Oh wait, they did that already! It was called 300, and it came out about eight years ago. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name,300 was the extremely fictional retelling of the events surrounding the legendary Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas of Sparta led a small band of soldiers in a heroic last stand against the overwhelming forces of the Persian king, Xerxes. That wasn’t the first time the story had been put to film, of course, but what made 300’s rendition unique was its visual style. Combining the comic book art direction of Sin City with the slowed down “bullet time” effects of The Matrix, 300 became the equivalent of watching a non-stop series of live action finishing moves play out on the big screen. I read somewhere that the video game Tattoo Assassins set the record for most kill shots with an incredible 2,196 unique – and often gruesome – takedowns. I’m not sure if anyone counted, but it sure seemed like 300 beat that number.
And if 300 didn’t, then surely its sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, must do so. Time and time again throughout the film, the furious onscreen action lurches to a near halt in order to linger on the super slow motion image of a sword lopping off a limb or an arrow piercing someone’s skull or a spear thrusting into… well you get the idea. Barring the sure-to-be-talked-about sex scene (wait for it, we’ll get there), hardly a three minute stretch of time goes by in 300: Rise of an Empire without an extended slow-motion sequence involving dozens of highly choreographed kill shots. Seriously, there’s probably more choreography in this movie than in any dance recital you’re likely to see. The difference is that it’s put to the purpose of simulated slaughter rather than soubresauts.
One would imagine that if any of the movie’s copious disemboweling looked at all realistic, audiences would probably be forced to run from their seats in search of the nearest vomitorium, but like it’s predecessor before it, 300: Rise of an Empire has little interest in reality. Rather, it puts its cartoonish, jelly-like CGI blood spatters to the task of mythologizing the events surrounding the real life battles of Artemisium and Salamis, in which the Athenian general Themistocles led Greek forces in naval combat against the Persians.
The movie begins at roughly the same time as the events in 300, with Themistocles in Athens attempting to convince the various Greek city-states to commit to war. Having as little success as Leonidas did in Sparta in raising a significant army, Themistocles assembles what little forces he can from willing farmers and craftsmen. This results in one of the film’s few variations from the visual style of its predecessor. Whereas the Spartans of