300: Rise of an Empire
Runtime 113 minutes.
Not for children.
It’s no coincidence that the only 30 seconds worth watching in this dismal attempt at entertainment are the same 30 seconds that Eva Green, playing Artemisia, doffs her shirt and fights topless. Other than that all you see are really stupid Greeks in loin cloths cutting off other people’s heads, thrusting swords in their chests causing blood to spurt all over Greece, and some of the most lackluster lines ever written (“Anger is something I reserve for my enemies.”).
We always hear about how brilliant the Athenians were, the cradle of democracy, Socrates and Plato and Aristotle and all that. But if this picture is to be believed, the rest of the Athenians were dumber than a rock. While their opponents in this film, the Persians, are bedecked in armor from head to foot, the Athenians go into every battle bare chested and bare legged (the movie is set in approximately 480 B.C., during Plato’s heyday). The only thing they protect is their privates and then just with a little leather.
Not to worry about their poorly protected privates, though, because they and the Persians are only interested in thrusting swords through chests, slitting throats, or cutting off heads. And we see lots and lots and lots of that, always followed by blood spurting out of the wound. There is so much blood that barely a minute goes by without some pouring out of someone’s head or slit throat or cut off arm. Those eye-averting scenes seem to be the entire raison d’être of the film.
But what’s worse is the desecration of history. This is supposed to be the story of a Greek naval victory, led by Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) over Persians led by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Artemisia, and Artemisia is pictured as a thoroughly disreputable character.
But what’s known about Artemisia, and, indeed, this entire period of Greek history, comes mostly from Herodotus, a Greek historian who was born in 484 BC, four years before the battle of Salamis, the battle about which this film concentrates.
Herodotus paints Artemisia as brilliant and heroic, rather than the despicable villain presented here by director Noam Murro and writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad (along with a credit to Frank Miller for a graphic novel that has never appeared). These filmmakers show her to be a Greek whose family was killed by Athenians, subjected to sexual slavery before being rescued by Persians who converted her into a vicious killing machine. But according to Herodotus, really the only source for all these people, Artemisia was Halicarnassian (Greek) on her father Lygdamis’ side and Cretan on her mother’s and there is no mention anywhere (that I can find, anyway) of the horrid life they show her as leading. He says she was a brilliant advisor to Xerxes who followed what she suggested which was almost always accurate.
Adding to that is the film’s allegation that the Persians presented armed forces consisting of one million men. In fact, most people believe that their forces consisted of approximately 60,000, even though their empire consisted of about 44 million of the 112 million people alive then. There’s one aerial shot of the two navies approaching one another showing the Persians with what looks like (and is represented to be) 1,000 ships and the Greeks with five. Yet the Greeks prevail (thanks in large part to the arrival of the Spartans in the nick of time à la John Wayne’s Cavalry). All of this is ridiculous, shameful, and irresponsible.
The final denouement is particularly galling in its blatant falsity and absurdity. The filmmakers had an opportunity to educate people about an important period of ancient history. Instead they present this tawdry piece of sensationalized, stylistic junk, with barely an iota of accuracy, which can only appeal to video game fanatics.
In fact, this is the epitome of sexism. Artemisia was an heroic woman, one of the most powerful in the history of the world and these dolts choose to make her a cartoon villain. In one of the few positives, Eva Green gives a wonderful performance, despite the ghastly script.
This film is not only shameful in its treatment of history, it’s pornographic in its graphic violence. Worse, although this movie is in 3D and filmed in color, it is so dark that it might as well be in black and white. I pity the poor Greeks if the climate was this terrible in the 4th and 5th Century BC.
Finally, what became of Themistokles? He was apparently an arrogant abuser of power and was forced out by the Athenians 9 years later. He fled Greece, and ended up in the service of the King of Persia, Artaxerxes, the son of Xerxes, the enemies he defeated to save Greece. I don’t know how Artemisia died, but I know it wasn’t the way depicted in this silly movie.