300: Rise of An Empire

Up through the early 90's unless the match took place on an important card most pro wrestling bouts had a fairly measured pace. When the Monday Night Wars started to heat up, however, the need to make every second of every broadcast more exciting began to usher in an age of splashy attention getting maneuvers that were perfect for highlight reels. After a few years the side effects of this riskier style of working became evident:  more wrestlers were doing horrible damage to their necks or getting addicted to painkillers or dying. But at that point stepping back from the brink wasn't going to be easy. The promoters had trained their audience what to expect and they were going to have to give that audience what they wanted or risk alienating them.

300: Rise of An Empire starts off with an extended battle sequence that's so drenched in bodily fluids it seems to be saying "you know all that blood they can't show you in PG-13 action movies? Well, we've been stockpiling it just for this." There are arrows in the heart, beheadings, even a horse stomping on a guy's head. After that sequence is over, however, it wants to pull back and try to tell a semi-complicated story about the tension between Athens and Sparta on the eve of war with Persia. I say semi-complicated not because it's actually an intricate story, but because it's a story with more characters than I cared to keep track of talking in vague ways about big ideas like capital D Democracy and capital F Freedom. It doesn't work at all. That opening scene has trained me to expect Arterial Spray: The Movie, so pivoting for the next twenty minutes to a series of interchangeable people with absurd abs talking about abstract concepts is a total blunder.

Of course, we do eventually return to Arterial Spray: The Movie with a big battle at sea in the middle of the movie and another big showdown on land AND at sea during the movie's climax. Neither scene provides much that seems new or exciting compared to the opening battle - although one of them does have people running around on fire, so if you count that as a substantial improvement over a mere decapitation then you have every right to disagree with me. Basically, after the opening scene sets the template the other battle scenes follow it exactly with similar choreography, camera angles and pacing. Even if I didn't think that all of the scenes where the generals are plotting grand military maneuvers with grim seriousness were ridiculous on their own, the fact that all of those grand plans culminate in the exact same orgy of stabbing would make the strategy discussions look completely unnecessary. But of course I did find them ridiculous on their own; after all who cares what these people are thinking? Almost every character in this movie might as well be a redshirt for all the emotional depth they bring to the table before they march off to [nobly?] die.

I'm well aware that I've probably aged out of being this film's target audience, and that parts of this movie that frustrated me probably worked with a younger more gung-ho viewer. But that's actually part of my problem: movies in the present train audiences for the future on what to expect. The same way that I think it's a shame that wrestling trained viewers to want matches that would cripple the wrestlers, I think it's a shame when action movies train viewers to want spectacle that undercuts story. They could have easily told this story in a way that would have had the battles accentuate the character drama instead of having the character drama feel like a hurdle you have to clear to get to the battles. Highlight reels can be fun when they're the opening of a show but they get pretty tedious at feature length.

 

Winner: The Cat

300: Rise of An Empire on IMDB