Property review: 300: Rise of an Empire

300: Rise of an Empire
Warner Bros., 2014

300: Rise of an Empire late but bold enough to make impact

The first movie in the possible pantheon of tales about the valiant Spartans who died at the Battle of Thermopylae was a rollicking good time. There were epic one-liners, fighting, sex and death: Everything you could ask for in a movie about ancient Greece and Persia. The second film had a name to live up to and a reputation to uphold. While it manages to recreate some of the fun of 300, Rise of an Empire comes much too late to capitalize and continue to curry the favor that 300 cultivated.

Rise of an Empire starts with the premise that King Leonidas and his brave brigade of warriors from 300 are dead. Taking place during, before and after Leonidas’ sacrificial trip to the Hot Gates, Rise of an Empire shows the beginning of Xerxes I’s reign, his creation of Persian city states, his rise to power and seeming immortality, and his ruthless general Artemisia’s background and eventual lust for revenge and power. With simultaneous story threads, the film moves along at a quickened pace despite being an hour and 42 minutes long. It needs that amount of time to flashback for multiple characters and push the present events forward.

While the look at events in Rise of an Empire are interesting, quite frankly it was too long between movies for there to be much interest in the proceedings. Rise comes seven years after the original, which means there’s plenty of time to forget the original plot, character motivations and reason for most of anything that occurs. There are plot recaps at the beginning, thankfully, but it’s hard to remember a plot from seven years previously and remain engaged.

Despite the passage of time, the film looks good. The chroma key technique used in the original is used again and then given a fuzzy sheen. While slightly jarring, the sheen doesn’t detract too much from the original look that matched the comics. The soundtrack remains the same as well, so not much has changed aside from the focus and some of the stars. Lena Headey returns as Queen Gorgo as does Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes. Eva Green — a former Bond Girl — and Sullivan Stapleton join in new roles to round out the cast. The new additions are great and seamlessly fit the universe. Green and Stapleton sizzle with chemistry and Green, in particular, is a standout. Santoro still commands as Xerxes whenever he is onscreen but the God King seems to take a backseat, which is hard to understand. As he remains the main villain, he should remain front and center.
Despite the long wait and storyline lagging from time to time, 300: Rise of an Empire is still a fun history lesson for the comic book lover and casual moviegoer alike.

Story: 7
Like the comics: 10
Casting: 9

Total: 36/40 or 9

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in cases of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Comic property review: ‘Superman Returns’

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. | Brandon Routh stars as Clark Kent/Superman in "Superman Returns."

Attempted reboot of Superman franchise an admirable effort

Superman Returns
Warner Bros., 2006

The reboot of the Superman movie franchise was long in coming. Let’s face facts: Superman IV was a disgrace to the franchise’s name, Christopher Reeve was rolling over in his grave at the lasting legacy, and the movie had spent at least a decade in development hell with various directors and actors attached to the project. Superman, himself, needed a hero.

Set after the events of Superman II, Returns brings a measure of credibility back to the DC stalwart. Firstly, Kevin Spacey was a prime choice for Lex Luthor. That’s not to say that Gene Hackman wasn’t a good choice, but Spacey is Lex. Second, Brandon Routh had the look of Reeve as Superman and he handled the role well despite the inevitable comparisons. Kate Bosworth was rather throwaway as Lois Lane but she didn’t necessarily detract from the film; she just doesn’t necessarily add anything.

Plot-wise, it’s the same old fare from the comics: Lex throws his acquired money around, tries to kill Superman, Lois needs rescuing, wash, rinse, repeat. It’s nothing you haven’t already seen but at least no one stands around chewing scenery. And the addition of Lois’ son is an interesting twist even if you can see it coming from a mile away.

Spacey is appropriately melodramatic as Luthor should be and Routh does an excellent job with emoting Superman’s dislike of the former multi-billionaire. One of the better aspects of the movie is the costume design. Characters really look like they would have existed in the 1950s and the décor matches well. Whoever designed the movie should have won some accolades for their work.

So what’s there not to love about the reboot? While director Bryan Singer does excellent work (as he does with most of his properties), it’s a little too long for some of us in the GI crew. While its fans point out that all Superman movies are around this length, it’s a little too dry in some areas. The beginning starts slowly and there are some odd plot points such Lois trying to quit smoking. Where did that come from, we ask.

Overall, the movie isn’t bad. It’s got great casting, the plot works and it’s Superman. You can’t go wrong there, well, unless you’re Superman III or IV. We believe that, contrary to popular criticism of the film, Routh was not acting as Reeve acting as Superman. We’ve read that bit of information in multiple places, and we really don’t get that. He worked with what he had and he channeled his predecessor pretty well, in our opinion. It’s a shame that there hasn’t been another movie since 2006 because the world really does need Superman.

How we grade
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Casting: 9/10
Plot: 9/10
Like the comics?: 7/10
Overall rating: 8