“Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… For tonight, we dine in hell!”
Fittingly nominated for QuickView #300, Zack Snyder’s sophmore feature marked the first of many comicbook-inspired movies and remains arguably his best. 300 is less a film adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel than a translation — Snyder would develop a range of visual techniques to emulate the source material, including its dichromatic palette of red and gold, shot almost entirely on digital backlot with only two practical sets. Even Snyder’s trademark overuse of slow-motion seems fitting here, where he is literally recreating panels of Miller’s art. Although based on the Battle of Thermopylae, this is overtly fantasy rather than history, narrated by a Spartan soldier with the purpose of mythologising events. This explains the one-sided perspective that garnered criticism for painting the Persians as barbaric mystics (often monstrously disfigured) whilst the Greeks are styled as the discliplined defenders of rationality and freedom (conveniently ignoring that Sparta was built upon a slave class that is never shown). The cast is filled with character actors able to bring stage skills to empty digital backlot sets; though many are now household names, most were not at the time immediately recognisable faces. 300‘s focus is not the reality of war but a pulse-pounding hypermasculine depiction of battle, cartoonish crimson sprays barely slowing its improbably muscular heroes, who are clad in little more than loincloths, capes, and more underlying homoeroticism than a Top Gun volleyball game. Like much of Zack Snyder’s work, 300 is undeniably style over substance but that is less of an issue here, where the source material was likewise unburdened by depth. When there is this much style, deployed creatively in ways we had never seen before, that can be satisfying in itself.
I don’t think I have felt so bittersweet about ending a trilogy since The Lord of the Rings concluded 15 years ago but, fittingly, at its heart the final film is about letting go. Unlike Pixar’s recent string of sequels, Dreamworks Animation is driven more by storytelling than cashing in on nostalgia (writer/director Dean DeBlois conceived the second and third films together), although there are wonderful flourishes that refer back to original film through dialogue, through actions, and through the score. Building these characters over the course of a decade allows for emotion to be conveyed subtly, like a silent gaze from Astrid as she realises how her adherence to values of traditional masculinity unintentionally hurts Hiccup. Viking society continues to provide an excellent backdrop against which to explore modern notions of masculinity (as in the underrated Norsemen TV series), particularly as Hiccup shoulders new burdens as chief. Although the discovery of a female “Light Fury” is the inciting incident that takes the whole village of Berk on the move, the changing relationship between Hiccup and Toothless is the real focus. The swashbuckling action is impressive and keeps the energy high but it rarely feels as compelling as spending time with the characters from Berk, leaving the dragon-poaching subplot often feeling like a distraction (or, more likely, a concession to viewers new to the franchise). These movies have always excelled in presenting majestic vistas and here the exceptional eye for detail is kicked up a notch, in a few places the realism of the environments even making the stylised characters seem a little out of place. Overall this is a delightfully satisfying conclusion that, although lacking the freshness of its predecessors, still retains their magic.
Disclosure: I know personally at least one person involved in the making of this film.
“We all like a bit of the good life — some the money, some the drugs, others the sex game, the glamour, or the fame. But a RocknRolla, oh, he’s different. Why? Because a real RocknRolla wants the fucking lot.”
RocknRolla feels more like a tribute to (or parody of) old school Guy Ritchie films than a genuine Guy Ritchie film. It features the trademark rapidfire banter, convoluted plot and East End gangster action, but they fail to form a cohesive whole, seeming more like a response to his critics. There are some standout kinetically shot action sequences and a few fun edits, but this does little to restore Ritchie’s directorial credibility. The film cockily touts its own sequel but there is little wonder that it has never emerged.