300: Rise of an Empire (R)

7 Stars

When it comes to expectation, Rotten Tomatoes established a new dynamic.

Although I only made the realization days ago, I’ve been a long-time fan of Frank Miller adaptations, loving both Sin City (2005) and 300 (2006) in the theater.

Since its early March release, 300: Rise of an Empire is certifiably rotten with a critic percentage in the low forties. So I skipped it.

Despite a similar Tomato rating, I saw Sin City: A Dame to Kill For the day after it hit theaters and couldn’t shake the disappointment/frustration for a few days.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I realize Frank Miller’s other sequel is available through Xfinity OnDemand via HD rental for $3.99. I’d totally forgotten it existed.

Neither my time, nor money went to waste.

300: Rise of an Empire is very good.

The co-starring antagonist role, Artemisia, is played by Eva Green. Artemisia is vastly different from Ava Lord, her character from Sin City: AD2K4.

She’s more, ahem, sympathetic.

Green’s slightly less nude, as well, though I don’t believe there’s a correlation.

Eva is top notch. Artemisia is easily 300 Part Deux’s greatest redeeming quality, and I said the same thing about Ava Lord in the sequel to Sin City.

Apparently Green is excellent in any badass female role written by Frank Miller.

Let’s hope we see more out of her in the future!

The same goes for Lena Headey, one of my favorite actresses, who reprises a supporting role as Gorgo. Just like David Wenham as Dilios (Leonidas’s one-eyed loyalist), she doesn’t disappoint.

Love that Lena Headey. She’s a ‘Grade A’ thespian.

One strong aspect of the story is how clearly it overlaps with that of its predecessor. The interaction with the timeline from 300 is never obscure to the viewer.

Clarity has its downsides however. The director recycles bits of footage from the first movie, which always feels like a cop-out. He doesn’t stop there, even reusing original footage introduced in the sequel.

That’s the one-two punch of fair criticism that overlaps with Sin City: AD2K4, wherein footage is also recycled.

It’s a near-certainty this film would be great had it been directed by Zack Snyder.

The writing is very strong. The action takes place at sea and furthers the original narrative, while building the larger world of the story. It’s good stuff!

The battles are epic and beautifully rendered. The CGI’s not perfect, especially when there’s a horse on-ship, but it’s easily ignored.

The outro credits are fun, but there’s no stinger after they start rolling.

Overall, 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t bad by any means.

With strong performances from a solid (albeit lesser known) cast, I’d say it doesn’t disappoint!

To bring it back around: I think this reaction’s noteworthy in contrast to the lingering sadness I felt about Sin City: AD2K4.

Perhaps much-anticipated sequels received with critical disfavor are best left on the backburner until becoming available as a rental. That way, reality can set in, and expectations are appropriately leveled.

By this logic, if Dumb & Dumbr To receives a R.T. percentage in the mid-forties, I should skip it and wait on the rental.

Or otherwise expect severe disappointment, right?

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (R)

7 Stars

Sigh.

It’s an injustice when critics refer to Sin City as a ‘cult classic.’

Likewise ‘campy’ denotes a lack in quality, and is an unfit qualifier for the first film.

A Dame to Kill For isn’t as good as its predecessor. Therefore if a group arises to defend their equality, it’s fair to deem the sequel ‘camp.’

Dame is not bad. It has many redeeming qualities.

But overall, AD2K4 is underwhelming.

Part of the problem involves the visuals.

Why didn’t they release it in IMAX? The larger screen and better sound could help.

I can’t put my finger on it, but something’s different about the shooting style between the two movies. The visuals are sharper, less gritty, and that’s not a good thing.

The clarity lends the settings/backdrops a more artificial feel. The environment feels cartoonish; not ‘lived in’ or ‘real.’

What happened with the editing? Seriously.

Why weren’t the filmmakers more generous to Jessica Alba?

The first film has an iconic two-minute scene of her dancing on-stage, but it’s mostly background to Hardigan’s (Bruce Willis) activity. The camerawork is elaborate, tasteful and never self-indulgent.

It’s as if the fans cried for more dancing Jessica, and the filmmakers way overcompensated. They’re building story with the nuances of strip teasing, but the performance is unconvincing.

Who deserves the blame? Why didn’t they do multiple takes? Why didn’t Alba prep better? After finishing the rough cut, didn’t the directors realize the stripping feels excessive? Where’s the stylistic panning, the cutaways, the slow-motion?

Why didn’t they re-shoot the boozing scenes? Who didn’t have time for whom? I want to know!

Ugh. Disappointing.

There’s way too much voiceover. Characters are constantly telling the audience unnecessary details.

If only things were a little bit tighter. Less voiceover, more background extras.

Other than the dancing and drinking, Alba’s acting is pretty good.

In fact, the entire cast is strong. Each thespian manages to fit the tone of the movie (except Julia Garner.)

That doesn’t include the ‘under fives’ (characters with less than five lines) however.

The frat boys are particularly alien. They oversell the frustration, the weirdness and the ‘douchiness’ (I guess?) that ‘frat boys’ are supposed to emulate.

If you can’t tell, I feel slighted by the open, in which ‘frat boys’ with an eye for ‘brand names’ are associated with disrepute. This is a tired cliché, and a feeble attempt at social commentary.

One of the characters actually says, “I have a trust fund!” while begging for his life.

Bobby, Franky; come on, guys. Nobody talks like that.

I’m curious to know why Clive Owen didn’t reprise his role as Dwight.

Josh Brolin accomplishes the job sufficiently. But is it possible the sequel suffers without Clive?

Absolutely. It’s just one more source of unnecessary confusion.

Bruce Willis, a protagonist and highlight from the first, returns as a supporting character and doesn’t disappoint.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s rock-solid as usual. That goes for Mickey Rourke, too.

Along with a cameo in A Million Ways to Die in the West, Christopher Lloyd appears twice on the summertime big screen (both times as a doctor, no less).

Lady Gaga was a minor disappointment. Small as it is, she doesn’t sell the waitress role.

Eva Green, on the other hand, buys the pie. Her performance as Ava Lord is rather impressive. She does a good job of selling a tough role and her character is the single greatest redeeming quality of the sequel.

Second place goes to how it illustrates the metaphysical nature of the city’s location.

Sure it’s noir L.A., but it’s also a weird sort of limbo in which archetypal anti-heroes congregate and intermingle.

The allegorical environment’s a phantasmal depot for sinners caught in the cycle of criminality.

Think about it, man.

When considering both flicks from that perspective, the sequel becomes much more thought-provoking.

The action’s pretty good; some moments are downright fantastic.

All in all, Dame 2K 4 is inferior to its predecessor, yet contains enough enchanting moments, compelling character interactions and violent mystique to satisfy fans.

See it if you like the first. Just don’t expect much.

There’s no stinger after the credits, so you can leave once they start to roll.

Perhaps Sin City 3 will make up for lost ground.

If Eva Green reprises her role, they’ve got a shot at turning things around.