Movie: 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

Historical background: Second Persian invasion of Greek city-states which ended in a stalemate at one front and Persian loss at the other, in the year 480 BC.

The film follows the efforts of one Athenian called Themistokles, who tries to unite all Greek city-states to offer a united front against the invading Persians, and goes through gore and blood of two major battles, which ends in decisive Greek victory.

I have written about problems of portrayal in the first installment, but this film comes out as much worse than the first.

It reinforces old school Orientalist characterisation in worst possible way and at the same time frames the Persians as war fanatics interested only in death and destruction. To encapsulate it in binaries, it’s a fight between good and evil, black and white, reason and fanaticism, Let’s see how.

The Persians are portrayed as ugly-faced, wild-eyed fanatics with fiery, hateful facial expressions. In his desire for vengeance, a reasonable-looking King Xerxes I of Persia undergoes some magic spells that make him a ‘god-king’ (I don’t know well about old Persians religious beliefs to opine how much of a joke it is but you get the idea!), and he marches on a trip to visit complete annihilation on Greece.

Orientalist bit: one Persian army general is shown as spending free time on the war ship in lechery (wine & women) when he’s ordered to stand up and check preparations for a fresh attack. The Persian army is clad in black (telling) and with turbans on their heads (telling). One Persian general is named ‘Bandari’ (not referring to Bandar Al-Saud but to current Iranian cities with have ‘Bandar’ in their names) and the other is called General Kashani (city: Kashan). So they couldn’t even think up, or look up, real-sounding names from the old Persian Empire.

Fanatic bit: When Xerxes I emerges from his transformation to become god-king, all high officials at the Persian court, those who were loyal to previous king Darius and taught and raised and counseled Xerxes before his transformation, are killed in cold blood, just for the heck of it, to remove any possible dissent on the part of those officials with regards Xerxes’ plans to invade and destroy Greece. This action, of course, is incomprehensible in a humane society like Greece but perfectly understandable in a country of fanatics.

The Greeks, on the other hand, are just your pretty looking, reasonable, clean and white folks gathering themselves together to defend their freedoms from marauding Persians. When they hear of the advancing Persian fleet, in Athenian senate, they verbally fight over whether they should negotiate peace with the Persians or fight. Themistokles, the great general-politician, tells them to calm down because “this is a democracy” and they must hold their guts to “fight tyranny”. Right there!

If you’re making a fantasy war film and not a historical war film, you are at liberty to fictionalise it in any way you like, but it doesn’t mean you produce a showy, gaudy and jingoist piece of political propaganda.

If I judge the film on merits of acting, story, and fantasy war, I still would not give it more than 2/5 because it’s a very flat film with nothing remarkable about it. In fact, the first installment (300 [2007]) was a much better film. Link on IMDb.

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