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 title of tonight’s episode, “Trust But Verify,” could not have been more perfect. While some characters were taking this wise lesson to heart, others had a difficult time learning it – and ended up paying the consequences. Let’s dig in, shall we?
Like I predicted last week, Thea has totally been suspicious of Moira ever since she bounced back from Walter’s disappearance right away. Thea even went so far as spying on her mom meeting with Tommy’s dad – aka the Dark Archer – but unfortunately came to the conclusion that Moira was cheating on Walter with him, not in evil cahoots with him. Well, to be fair, Mr. Dark Archer certainly gets handsy with Moira. That’s not normal.
And speaking of our other archer, we learned something major this week. First of all, his wife/Tommy’s mother was murdered when Tommy was only eight, shot in the head and died on the street. While Tommy told Laurel that her murder was the catalyst for his dad shutting down and only caring about himself, we learned that it was the catalyst for him to become the Dark Archer. Is he actually a vigilante like Oliver, setting out to clean up Starling City and avenge his wife’s death? Have we been viewing him all wrong this whole time? But if he’s actually good, what is his mysterious plan for Starling City, that apparently includes blocking someone from gentrifying The Glades (the worst part of the city)? Or did he start off as an avenging hero and turn into something else? If so, what caused the transformation from good to evil? So many questions!
In much simpler storylines, the villain of the week was Diggle’s old commanding officer from his first term in Afghanistan. Therefore, Diggle was stubborn in believing they had the wrong suspect in the armed robbery cases (even though his CO's name was on The List... that is just too big of a coincidence). He actually picked sides against Oliver, foiling Arrow’s takedown of Gaynor in order to prove his innocence. And side note, when Diggle asked Gaynor point blank if there was any reason the hooded vigilante would be gunning for him, he replied, “You’ve known me a long time. What do you think?” Um, that’s not an answer. I absolutely hate it when people answer a question with another question. If you can’t give a straight answer, well… there’s your answer. Why didn’t Diggle notice this? Could have saved him a lot of time and grief. End of aside.
It’s a good thing Oliver was persistent in his beliefs though, and enlisted the help of intrepid IT girl Felicity! She is totally catching on to Oliver’s outlandish requests, by the way. Especially when the files she unlocked were all the plans necessary for robbing the trucks that were highly publicized. And major props to Stephen Amell for this scene. When Felicity called him up with the news that she had unlocked what he had suspected was there all along, the just barely concealed rage was hidden in his voice but oh-so-visible on his face. And David Ramsey also deserves some snaps for his scene when Diggle finds out he was wrong, and his CO actually was the brains behind the robbing operation. My heart was breaking for Diggle. But thanks to a little help from Arrow and a whole lot of help from a grenade launcher, Diggle got his first The List crossout, fully proving he is no sidekick. Diggle and Arrow are truly equals.
And as for our island flashbacks of the week, both the audience and Oliver were dealt a shocking blow: his mentor in the green hood, who Oliver fought so hard to protect and jail break from the goons in charge of the prison, actually played him. Oliver ended up getting caught during his rescue attempt. What a jerk! Clearly, we still don’t know the full story of the island (and neither was Diggle, who referred to the island as deserted), and I have a feeling we won’t find out the whole truth for a long time. But hey, enjoy the ride!
In other major Arrow news, we got our first glimpse of a new drug called Vertigo hitting the universe. Thea decided to go for a joy ride after partaking in the drug from The Glades, and woke up in the hospital after crashing her new car. Happy birthday Thea? And since the tox screens came back positive for Vertigo, Thea is under arrest. I absolutely cannot wait until next week when we finally get to meet the drug kingpin behind Vertigo… and no, I’m not talking about Walter White. We’ll finally meet The Count, Seth Gabel’s dangerous, erratic street thug with flair who will be causing both Oliver and Arrow some major issues. Check out Hollywood.com next Wednesday for an in-depth look at Gabel’s villain, because I have been sitting on some really juicy scoop just for you!
And I can’t let this recap end without calling out tonight’s best line, courtesy of Diggle: “I’m not going to let you William Tell an innocent man!” We’ve got a new verb, people!
[Photo Credit: The CW]
Follow Sydney on Twitter @SydneyBucksbaum
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