300: Rise of an Empire (2014)


So … This is NOT Sparta?

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.  Let’s see if I still know how to do it.  So, I saw a movie.  And that was a good thing.  Movies are good.  …SHIT!  This is harder than I thought!  I haven’t written a review in a while, and I actually haven’t been to the theaters in a while either.  I don’t think I’ve seen a movie this year!  Shameful, it is!  I think school is mainly to blame.  I like to try to set up my school schedule to allow me plenty of time for sleep and other fun activities such as movies … and then I realize mid-semester that it isn’t going to work out as planned.  But then Spring Break happened, so I had two days off, and I apparently decided that I should make them Ancient Greek/Roman appreciation day.  If you know what’s in theaters you’ll probably already know what I saw, but the first movie I saw was 300: Rise of an Empire, based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, directed by Noam Murro, and starring Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro, Lena Headey, Jack O’Connell, Yigal Naor, Andrew Tiernan, David Wenham, Hans Matheson, and Peter Mensah.

In the Battle of Marathon, General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) of Athens kills King Darius I (Yigal Naor) of Persia in front of his son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).  And everyone acts like he did something wrong for some reason.  I was under the impression that this is how war works.  Well, I can understand Xerxes getting all pissy that his dad died, and that’s just what he does.  His dying father tells him that the Greeks can only be defeated by a God.  I believe this was intended to get Xerxes to stop the war as that would be the simplest method, but Xerxes decides that he should become a God instead, mainly because his naval commander, Artemisia (Eva Green), tells him that’s what it means.  Well Xerxes goes and swims in some funky pool and comes out gigantic, bejeweled, and golden.  So he’s a God now.  And he wants to get his revenge on that damned Themistocles, and all of Greece while he’s at it.

The first question I had for this movie is, “Where are the 300 Spartans?”  The answer to that is, “Elsewhere.  We just wanted to use the title.”  This movie happens at roughly the same time as the Battle of Thermopylae that we saw in the first movie.  At least they were right that we’d be watching an empire rise.  This time, we’ll watch less awesome warriors with less awesome abs fighting less awesome battles written by less awesome people.  So the movie is less awesome, but it’s still thoroughly watchable.  Sure there’s some stupid writing here, but I expected no less.  I came for the fights, and we’ll get to that later.  For now I’ll just say that the story wasn’t anything spectacular.  It was a little bit historical facts, but mostly just excuses to take us from one fight to the next.  And some stupid dialogue.  Let us not act like we didn’t expect that.  And by “that,” I mean lines like, “Ferocity matched only by beauty, which is matched only by her devotion to the king.”  That shows a gross misunderstanding of the word “only.”

The fights in this movie were good, but less significant as they were mostly things we had seen before in the first movie.  Lots of topless dudes cutting limbs off in slow motion.  And boy did they love using slow motion.  I’m pretty sure this movie would be about 23 minutes long if they played the entire thing at regular speed.  But that’s okay because they included plenty enough violence and gore to hold my attention.  The nautical battles were less interesting to me, and there were a few too many of them in comparison to the regular combat, but I got by.  Plus, they had a really interesting and innovative fight between Themistocles and Artemisia later in the movie, with an entirely different kind of stabbing.  This was a battle of genitals!  A sexual skirmish!  A very interesting type of combat, and one that I’d be interested in learning.  Especially with Eva Green.

The cast of the movie all did what they had to do and I had no real complaints.  My favorite was definitely Eva Green.  She was pretty badass in the movie, and more importantly, she was pretty topless in the movie.  I found this very significant, but apparently it’s not all that uncommon within her movie career.  But it’s the first movie I had seen her in where she was so exposed, and I found it to be a blessing.  I was always confused by Rodrigo Santoro’s Xerxes in the original 300.  Why would they decide to make what is supposed to be such an intimidating figure a giant, hairless, bejeweled individual with a creepy voice and ambiguous sexuality?  When I first saw him in this movie, I was much happier that he got to be regular looking … and then they turned him back into Baldie McGayBalls again.  But he was almost a secondary villain to Artemisia in this movie, so he was much easier to tolerate.  And I suppose his performance was fine as well.  Sullivan Stapleton was fine in this movie as well, but he was attempting to take the reins from Gerard Butler’s Leonidas and that’s a high bar of badass to reach.

300: Rise of an Empire probably shouldn’t have been called 300 because it really doesn’t have anything much to do with that story, and this story probably suffered for it.  The story isn’t as good as I it jumped the gun on what could eventually be some awesome source material, the fights weren’t nearly as good because the Greeks aren’t nearly as awesome as the Spartans, but the performances were mostly good though no one was quite as awesome as Gerard Butler’s Leonidas, or even Michael Fassbender’s Stelios.  But the movie is completely watchable and an entertaining enough way to spend a few hours, but it’s also entirely skippable.  300: Rise of an Empire gets “Leonidas is dead” out of “If death comes, I’m ready!”

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012 and 2013)


We’re in For a Show, Kid.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012 and 2013)Today’s review is brought to you by Smodcast. Well, Kevin Smith and Smodcast are in no way paying me to write this review, but it probably wouldn’t have come to pass if it weren’t for Kevin Smith. I listen to numerous Kevin Smith podcasts, and I think I’ve heard him rave about today’s movies on a few different podcasts he’s taken part in. The movies are based on some comic books that meant a lot to Smith, but I had never read. I had attempted to read them, but I found them a little verbose and not as visually interesting as the comic books that I tend to go for. Then these movies came out, and Smith loved them. If I remember correctly, he stated that he is brought to tears by the retelling. After hearing him talk these movies up numerous times, I finally decided that they begged a rental. And that brings me to review Part One and Part Two of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, based on the comic books by Frank Miller, screenplay by Bob Goodman, directed by Jay Oliva, and starring the voices of Peter Weller, Michael Emerson, David Selby, Ariel Winter, Mark Valley, Wade Williams, Maria Canals Barrera, Robin Atkin Downes, Paget Brewster, Michael McKean, Gary Anthony Williams, Tress MacNeille, Grey DeLisle, Bruce Timm, Conan O’Brien, and Frank Welker.

Part One. The government has banned superheroes. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) retires from crime fighting as the Batman. But, without the Batman, Police Commissioner James Gordon (David Selby) is left to fight a losing battle against the gangs of Gotham City. Harvey Dent (Wade Williams), having undergone surgery to repair his face, relapses and returns to crime. Bruce also relapses, succumbing to the gangs, Harvey’s reappearance, and the memory of his parents’ death, and returns to the cowl after saving the life of 13-year-old Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter), who he starts training as his new Robin. But Batman’s return may have other consequences…

Part Two. Batman’s return brings the return of the Joker (Michael Emerson), who remained in a catatonic state in an asylum in Batman’s absence, his life having no purpose. Joker intends to make his big debut on a talk show interview, and Batman determines to stop him, even though he must get through Commissioner Gordon’s successor, Ellen Yindel (Maria Canals Barrera), to do so. But making such a public showing of the Batman’s return comes with another danger: the government may send Superman (Mark Valley), who works as a government operative now, to deal with the vigilante detective.

I was really happy with this movie. I knew that the comic books were well-written and entertaining, but I’m too easily bored by reading to make it through. Turning these into a movie was the perfect way to enjoy the story without any of that annoying reading stuff. And the story is definitely one that’s worth getting into your brain, either by reading or by watching. I start into the movie a little closed off because I don’t like seeing Batman retire, but I also understand the world that Miller creates that leads to Batman retiring. And then I like it even more when Batman comes back because of Two-Face. But if Two-Face no longer has two faces, doesn’t he have to change his name to Harvey Face or Scary Face? Plus, don’t they already have a villain that walks around with his face wrapped up like a mummy? Hush or something? I also thought it was cool that the movie shows us what it’s like to be an aging Batman, in the shadows planning his move against a group of criminals, and then you get to see a little bit of what it’s like to be one of the criminals, getting beaten down by the Batman, but not knowing where it’s coming from. But really, I feel like I was more excited to get to part two of the story. Part one does a lot of hinting at bigger things on the horizon. I was waiting to see what would happen with Superman, and I was waiting to see what would happen with the Joker. The relationship between the Joker and Batman has always been a fascinating one. I really liked Kevin’s Smith’s take on it in the comic book series Batman: Cacophony, and that one seems to take some ideas from Dark Knight Returns in things like the fact that the Joker is catatonic in a world without Batman and only comes back when Batman does, and Joker says something to that effect in Smith’s book. But the talk in Smith’s book was only a preamble to what happens further along in the timeline in this story, and it is an epic conclusion to their relationship to be sure. I also knew that part two would include a showdown between Batman and Superman, which I was very excited for. Mainly because I hate Superman. Such a goodie two-shoes son of a bitch. And not even a bright one! Why would he shove a train to a halt to save one blind man on the tracks when he could’ve just … I don’t know … picked him up and carried him off of the tracks instead of demolishing a train by shoving it to a stop? Fuckin’ douche…

I really don’t have a lot to say about the look of the movies. I wouldn’t say that I “liked” it, per se, but I do respect that they captured the look of the comics very well. I just wasn’t that big of a fan of the look of the comics. It works very well either way, but it’s not really my bag. I also like how the fights are realized in the movie. They’re very effective. It’s kind of like watching a UFC fight … in mud … between Batman and a mutant guy with spikey nipples … Also, I was a fan of that Bruno chick, or as I called her “Swastika Titties.” Swa-stick-ons? Swa-tit-kas? I don’t know, you work it out.

I found myself very conflicted by the voices in the movie. I liked them all, but I kept feeling myself missing the people that I had become more familiar with. Batman’s voice for me has pretty much always been Kevin Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series, which may have been one of the first times I heard him speak. Either that or Pete Holmes imitating Christian Bale. Those are my Batman voices. The same could be said for the Joker. No one does Joker like Mark Hamill. Peter Weller and Michael Emerson do good jobs, but my brain is so resistant to change that I will probably always shy away from any deviation.

If you’re anything like me, you should definitely go out and buy Parts One and Two of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It allows you to experience Frank Miller’s fantastic story of the aging Batman and his return to crime-fighting without all that tedious reading. They capture the comic book entirely, as best I can tell from my limited skimming of the graphic novels many years ago. Definitely worth buying for any comic book fans, Batman fans, and people who lack the attention span to read things. Of course, if that’s you, I doubt you made it to the end of this review. I wouldn’t have read it all, that’s for sure. Part Two is way better in my opinion because it has the fights with the Joker and Superman, but you kind of need Part One to set it all up. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns gets “It took years and cost a fortune. Luckily, I had both” out of “This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.”

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