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.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
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.
Follow @Michael Arbeiter
| Follow @Hollywood_com
Somewhere along the timeline of his formative years, Kansas-raised Clark Kent comes to the realization that he can take a punch like nobody's business. He determines on one fateful afternoon that he has the ability — and as his internal makeup commands, the duty — to save a sinking school bus filled with his horrified classmates after it careens off a delicate bridge into one of the Sunflower State's many proud bodies of water. It is this journey, told exclusively through flashbacks, that comprises the very best of Man of Steel.
A young Clark has no understanding of himself, his origins, his powers, or his place in the world. And the boy's soft-spoken, earnest adoptive father Jonathan has nothing but compassion to offer his struggling son. He muddles pieces of conflicting advice, telling Clark simultaneously that he needs to hide his abilities in order to safeguard himself from the intolerant planet Earth, all the while prophesying the day when the Krypton-born navel gazer will have to decide, once and for all, what sort of man he wants to be. But no amount of the senior Kent's empathy and wisdom can foster our young hero through his turmoil. "Man," we think during the movie's earliest childhood scenes. "All this groundwork is going to pay off big time when he finally gets that suit."
But like the preteen Clark, Zack Snyder's Man of Steel has an identity crisis. While an early adulthood Superman should still be struggling with the issues presented in his extensive maudlin memories, the second half of the movie seems to suppress these ideas. Instead of the probing "Who am I?” and "Who am I supposed to be?" questions that make Superman (despite scathing criticisms) a genuinely interesting character, the film opts for a warfare between Clark and Zod that represents the war between Earth and Krypton — both for claim to the planet and for claim to Clark's psyche.
Of course, the themes interweave. Zod invades Earth in hopes of retrieving the grown Kal-El (who holds the genetic code for a populace of unborn Kryptonians) and using the planet as a new breeding ground for his people. As such, the decision is posed to Clark: live among the Earthlings, a race from which you've been forced to hide your true identity, or among your own kind. It seems like it should translate effectively to the sort of gripping questions introduced vaguely by the powerful boyhood material. But the whole ordeal — which plays out with an hour long mêlée between Superman (that's what they're calling him, so says a humble military man) and Zod through the war-torn streets of Metropolis — feels far less personal than what was promised.
Man of Steel sets itself up as close to the heart of the Kryptonian immigrant as possible. While the legacy undertaken from birth father Jor-El is vast and imbued with intergalactic consequence, what separates Man of Steel (or what is meant to) is the earthbound backstory. But the conflict planted by a sobbing Jonathan Kent, played tear-inspiringly by Kevin Costner, calls for more than it eventually pays off to be.
The Clark Kent we see in the vivid, hard-to-choke-down flashback scenes deserves more than the us-or-them breathless battle that the film's third act takes. This chapter isn't without its appeals: the action is unprecedented. The acting — that of Michael Shannon and Russell Crowe's Prometheus-like ghost — is nothing to sneeze at. In fact, the conclusive arc's biggest enemy is how good the early parts of the movie are. With so much to live up to, so much to deliver, Superman's face-off with General Zod seems to fall in the territory of the DC character's older, less substantial material. Thus, the film on the whole — even its near perfect days in somber small town Kansas — suffers. While Man of Steel does tinker with the idea that Superman's greatest enemy is himself, I don't think this is how they meant that.
As far as an effort to reconstruct Superman might go, Man of Steel is a noble one. If anything, Zack Snyder tried to inject too much into his project: the vast array of identity issues that Clark might face, a melding of DC past with the sophistication of the present pop culture psyche, and — of course — the sort of action that you can't avoid in a superhero flick like this. Each, individually, is a success. But together, the components start stepping all over one another, leaving little room for the sort of expansion that the most valuable facets deserve. As a result, Man of Steel isn't fun enough or deep enough to satisfy either end of the superhero movie spectrum. It's got a little of both, but not enough of either. Some might call it the nature of the beast. But sweeping accusations aside, Superman can be an interesting character. We just have to decide what it is that is interesting about him.
Follow Michael Arbeiter on Twitter @MichaelArbeiter | Follow Hollywood.Com On Twitter @Hollywood_Com
More:'Man of Steel' Cast and Creators Talk a New Kind of Superman'Man of Steel' TV Spotz: Wait, Is Russel Crowe's Jor-El Alive?7 Shirtless Pics of 'Man of Steel' Star Henry Cavill
From Our PartnersStars Pose Naked for 'Allure' (Celebuzz)Let’s Translate Walter White, Taylor Swift and More into Dothraki (Vulture)
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
My love-fest for this show has been well documented and oddly it doesn’t seem to be abating anytime soon. Whoever is casting this new Aaron Sorkin show just keeps on courting fantastic female talent. As we know, Jeff Daniels is playing a cable news host and Marisa Tomei is in talks to play his executive producer (also in talks for the role? Emily Mortimer. Please don’t make me choose between the two. I don’t think I could). Now we’ve learned that Olivia Munn is in talks to play a financial analyst on the same network and Alison Pill is negotiating to play an associate producer on the program.
I already want to take this show out to dinner and let it meet my parents and get it pregnant behind the middle school.
Possibly titled More As This Story Develops, the pilot will be directed by Greg Mottola and yeah, these new additions are stellar. Now, there seems to be an extreme internet love/hate relationship with Munn. Some nerds go crazy for her while others think she panders too much and isn’t that pretty. Me? I fall in the middle. She’s definitely attractive and you can’t be on The Daily Show and not be somewhat funny. Besides, if they are going to portray cable news realistically they need someone hot that can handle the banter. I think Munn’s perfect. As for Alison Pill? She's engaged to Jay Baruchel so she can't be that bad. She also stole every scene in Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World and if that doesn’t convince you enough then we have nothing left to say except, "We duel at dawn. Pistols, knives, fists. That order."