Okay let’s get the recommendation out of the way. If you liked the original 300 you’ll like this one, if you found the previous 300 a little over the top and didn’t care for it…not much has changed. But you knew that before ever reading a review. Overall I give it a D+ with a caveat I will get to at the end of this review. First let’s talk about why it got the ignominious grade. First the visuals. I have heard it said that if you played all the slow motion scenes of the first 300 at regular speed the movie would be 20 minutes long…this one is no different. But this time all the blood splatter seems to have the consistency of maple syrup. The battle scenes were of course over the top…but so much so that I feel that if the main character of Themistocles had been at Thermopylae he could have fended off the Persians for all three days—BY HIMSELF! (Yes it really was that over the top.) You either love it or you hate, and I hate it because it takes away from what could have otherwise been a really deep film (same problem as the first one). The real problem for 300 for someone like me is that I know history. . And it’s always a double edged sword. I sit back and am shaking my head the entire time thinking ‘that’s not even remotely how it happened…even artistic license doesn’t justify this.’ But it also brings things that I know about but others usually don’t to public attention. For instance I love that this movie brings to the forefront one of history’s greatest but least known heroes, Themistocles, the man who won the Persian War more than anyone else. But unlike the heroics of the real Themistocles who had the foresight to see what was coming, the strength of will and cleverness to pull the raucous democracy of Athens to do the right and prudent thing in spite of their short sightedness, and had a skill for tactics that ranks among the greatest generals in history (not to mention his tragic fall)…well, the Themistocles of the movie does have some understanding of tactics, but more than that is just a superhuman warrior who can take on legions by himself, convince horses to charge through a huge wall of fire, and can survive point blank explosions with barely a scratch. It was also nice to see the Persian admiral Artemisia brought to modern attention…although it was not so nice that the woman who was famed in the Ancient world for being cool and collected under fire was depicted as a hot-blooded genocidal lunatic. Of course the worst is the Battle of Salamis. One of the greatest moments of tactical genius in history reduced to an action packed mêlée of brawn and swords.
From the real Battle of Salamis:
“Master, see Artemisia, how well she is fighting, and how she sank even now a ship of the enemy”
Xerxes: “My men have become women, and my women men.”
But these are just normal complaints against any movie that has anything to do with history. No, the thing that really annoys me about these movies is the unrealized potential they have. Like the first 300 this movie has some great speeches about nobility and the need to fight tyranny. The best was the speech given before the first major sea battle against the Persians…it was only slightly weakened by the fact that I’m fairly certain if I compared it line for line, it was actually just the “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” from Henry V with just easier to understand diction…no really, you do expect Themistocles to end his speech with “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” But aside from this mild plagiarism the speeches are still quite good. Of course all the great writing behind those speeches will soon be lost in over the top battles that are only tangentially related to what actually happened…but hey, it’s 300, did you expect otherwise? Finally there is the philosophy. Just as with the last entry into this series the film is quite deep when it comes to an understanding of foreign affairs. It makes a clear line between the forces of liberty and those of tyranny, and it makes the point that tyranny must be fought. But more than the last one, 300: Rise of an Empire makes it clear that those who whine only about what has been lost, that make the childish complaint about the lives of those who will be lost miss the point that it is better that some should choose to sacrifice their lives for ideals that must be fought for than to just give into grief and make their sacrifice in vain. I just wish these important themes were conveyed in something not so cartoonish…and here is the caveat I mentioned at the beginning: maybe I’m wrong about the idea that they shouldn’t be in something so cartoonish. Maybe this is the perfect vehicle to expose the most people to ideals that are far deeper than what you would expect from such a bizarre overblown action fest…and if that is the case then this is an A movie as it conveys ideas that people need to think about in a format that it will reach them and you should bring all your friends to see it. I’m not entirely convinced of that caveat myself…but I admit that there is a possibility of it being the case. Otherwise I still find the action just a little silly.