Eight years ago director Zack Snyder had a coming out party in the form of 300, based on Frank Miller’s comic. The swords-and-sandals actioner starred a then-relatively-unknown Gerard Butler as Leonidas, the king of the Spartans, whose country is risking siege at the hands of the Persian Empire.
The movie was a big hit, eventually grossing over $450 million dollars worldwide and cementing Snyder’s status as a Hollywood power player. The reputation was deserved at the time; 300 is an immensely entertaining piece of entertainment. No one would ever accuse it of being subtle, but it is a gorgeous movie full of exciting, kinetic action sequences. And abs. Lots of abs. Much like Fast & Furious 6 (one of the best movies of last year), 300 does not try to be anything more than what it is: a popcorn flick.
Butler is suitably tough and menacing. It is easy to see why Hollywood became so focused on making him a star after 300, but after so many romantic comedies it is now clear what a bad idea that was. Also featured are a pre-Game of Thrones Lena Headey, a mid-The Wire Dominic West, and a young man named Michael Fassbender, whose penis we had yet to see.
As good (well, “fine” may be a better descriptor) as these actors are, Snyder is the real star of the movie. He quickly became the Warners’ go-to guy for comic and comic-esque properties. His 300 follow-up was Watchmen, based on the almost unbelievably acclaimed graphic novel of the same name, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. The movie is pretty inoffensive, but – outside of an inspired opening credits sequence – it is rather dull. His next two projects (Legend of the Gaurdians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole and Sucker Punch) were not based on comic books, but they continue the lifeless use of his visual style without the soul seen in 300. Which brings us to last year’s Man of Steel. This is not a Man of Steel review (if it was a review that movie’s eviscerated corpse would already be on the floor; it would be a massacre), but suffice to say that by now it has become clear that Snyder is all pomp and no circumstance.
The arc of Snyder’s career is especially disappointing in light of the fact that he is apparently DC Comics and Warner Bros. response to Joss Whedon over at Marvel. Snyder’s style is so oversaturated with violence and grit that these iconic characters (who are meant to represent ideals) will become a team of Leonidases, chopping their way through their enemies.
Snyder’s new responsibilities have distracted him from the project that made him a king (for the purposes of this write-up I guess I am pretending Dawn of the Dead never happened). For some strange reason a 300 sequel is finally coming out this weekend, just in time for everyone to say, “Huh. I had forgotten all about that movie.” Directorial duties have been handed over to Noam Murro, whose only other feature credit is Smart People, a movie starring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Page that no one saw. I’m not sure what prompted Warner Bros. to give Murro the job, but it will be interesting to see if he can re-capture the success of an eight-year-old movie (and to see how much of the blame he catches when 300: Rise of an Empire inevitably does not do as well as its predecessor). At the very least he has Lena Headey to help him out (Fassbender and his penis have moved on to bigger, mutant-y-er franchises). Plus a script co-written by Snyder. If that’s not a recipe for success then I don’t know what is.