Gun to my head, I might be able to say something positive about 300: Rise of an Empire. In a vacuum, I suppose I'd call its aesthetic appealing, its production value impressive, or its giant rhinos kind of cool. But these elements cannot be taken alone, embroidered on a gigantic patch of joyless pain that infests your conscious mind from its inceptive moments on.
It's not so much that the 300 sequel fails at its desired conceit — it gives you exactly what it promises: gore, swordplay, angry sex, halfwit maxims about honor and manliness and the love of the fight. It's simply that its desired conceit is dehumanizing agony. Holding too hard and too long to its mission statement to top its Zack Snyder-helmed predecessor in scope, scale, and spilled pints of blood, Noam Murro's Rise of an Empire doesn't put any energy into filtering its spectacular mayhem through whatever semblance of a humanistic touch made the first one feel like a comprehensive movie.
Now, it's been a good eight years since I've seen 300, and I can't say that I was particularly fond of it. But beneath its own eye-widening layer of violence, there was a tangible idea of who King Leonidas was, what this war meant, and why Sparta mattered. No matter how much clumsy exposition is hurled our way, all we really know here is that there are two sides and they hate each other.
When Rise of an Empire asks us to engage on a more intimate level, which it does — the personal warfare between Sullivan Stapleton (whose name, I guess, is Themistokles) and Bad Guy Captain Eva Green (a.k.a. Artemisia) is founded on the idea that she likes him, and he kind of digs her (re: angry sex), and they want to rule together, but a rose by any other name and all that — we're effectively lost. With characters who don't matter in the slightest, material like this is just filler between the practically striking battle sequences.
But when the "in-between material" is as meaningless as it is in Rise of an Empire, the battles can't function as much more than filler themselves. Filler between the opening titles and closing credits. A game of Candy Crush you play on the subway. Contemptfully insubstantial and not particularly fun, but taking place nonetheless.
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Without even a remote layer of camp — too palpably absent as Rise of an Empire splashes its screen with so much human fluid that "The End" by The Doors will start to play in your head — there's no victory in a movie like this. No characters to latch onto, no story to follow, no joy to be derived. Yes, it might be aesthetically stunning (and really, that's where the one star comes in... well, half a star for that and half for the giant rhinos), but the marvel of its look shrinks under the shadow of the painful vacancy of anything tolerable.
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The year is 2455 and Earth has become a contaminated toxic wasteland called Old Earth. A group of student explorers from a new colony Earth II revisit the once-vibrant planet for an archeological trip and stumble onto the abandoned Crystal Lake Research Facility where mass serial killer Jason Voorhees (Kane Hodder) and a scientist have been cryogenically frozen since 2008. Elated at their discovery the team takes the two bodies aboard their ship and blasts off hoping to cash in on their new finds. But before Rowan (Lexa Doig)--the newly thawed scientist--can warn the group that Jason is a force not to be reckoned with the frozen cryo-gel melts off him and he is soon roaming the ship with his trusty machete. What follows is an hour of head smashing body impaling and limb cutting--basically Jason Voorhees at his best--except now he's been modified into a super-reinforced killing machine. Sure there are some elements to the story that don't add up like why a small little sleepy town like Crystal Lake would have such a huge research center but let's face it: no one is going to see this story for its plausibility.
Fans of the sci-fi series Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda will be familiar with at least two of Jason X's heroines Lexa Doig and Lisa Ryder. The interesting thing is that in their jump from the TV to the big screen their roles have reversed: Doig went from playing a hologram named Rommie to a flesh-and-blood human while Ryder went from flaxen-haired human to tech-droid KAY-EM 14. Doig's performance however is rather rigid and it didn't have anything to do with the fact that she has in cryogenic hibernation for more than 450 years. As an android Ryder's performance is fitting enough and her dialogue and body language make the part believable if not a little corny. And what can you say about Kane Hodder? Although it wouldn't have been the same without the star of the last four Friday the 13th series Hodder's performance is not that relevant considering he never talks and remains hidden behind a hockey mask the whole time.
Equipped with a background in special effects first-time director Jim Isaac doesn't skimp on the blood gore and six million imaginative ways to die violently in outer space. Even though the film was set some 475 years after the happenings at Camp Crystal Lake and takes place in a completely different setting Isaac remains true to all of Friday the 13th's tacky elements that have since become the series' trademark. The teens in Jason X are still constantly running around having sex--except they're doing it in a space ship rather than at summer camp--and they're still getting bludgeoned in the middle of it. For the most part the film never takes itself too seriously which saves it from being completely ludicrous. In one scene for example the students try to distract Jason by projecting a holographic image of Camp Crystal Lake complete with two '80s-looking camp counselors in their panties drinking beer in their sleeping bags exclaiming "Hey Jason want to have some premarital sex?" And all this is set to the infamous "Ch-ch-ch-ha-ha-ha."