300: Rise of an Empire and Mr. Peabody & Sherman

While the two films I saw were very different, they shared a few things.  First, they both were made possible by computer generated images.  Second, they dealt with events from history.  And finally, the two films both had strong relationships that faced trying circumstances.  Only one film featured an army full of chiseled abs while the other had the world’s smartest dog that talks.  Neither is based in much reality but one certainly works better than the other.
 
300:  Rise of an Empire
 
The Persian army has been fighting the Greeks for years.  At the battle of Marathon, Greek General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) shot an arrow into the chest of Persian King Darius (Yigal Naor).  The king’s son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) tried to save his father but failed.  Returning to the Persian capital, Darius has survived long enough to say goodbye to his son and to the leader of his naval forces Artemisia (Eva Green).  Darius’ dying words to his son are to stop fighting the Greeks as only the gods can defeat them.  Artemisia twists those words into a challenge and sends the grieving Xerxes on a journey through the desert.  Finding the cave of a hermit, Xerxes is delirious and near death.  He steps into a pool of magical fluid and emerges as a god-king.  Returning to his castle, Xerxes tells his people they are going to war with the Greeks.  Ten years later, Themistokles is a leader in the Greek government.  He convinces them to give him a fleet to face the Persians.  He then also heads to Sparta to ask for the assistance of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) but learns he and 300 men are going to face Xerxes and his army and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is reluctant to aid the Greeks.  Themistokles returns and meets with his old friend Scyllias (Callan Mulvey).  Scyllias had infiltrated the Persian fleet and learned Artemisia was born a Greek but, as a child, watched her family murdered by the Greek army.  She was sold into slavery and frequently raped before she was left for dead on a street where she was found by a Persian leader.  Her desire for revenge led her to become a fierce warrior and she quickly rose through the ranks to become one of King Darius’ most trusted military leaders.  Themistokles knows the Persian fleet vastly outnumbers his own but uses strategy to win the first few skirmishes.  Artemisia has been holding back the bulk of her fleet for a final full assault to end the war.  Despite her thirst for revenge against the Greeks, Artemisia finds herself impressed with the leadership and tactics of Themistokles and plans on trying to seduce him to join her.
 
“300:  Rise of an Empire” is very similar to the previous film “300” with a similar look, similar action and similar themes.  While you might think I enjoyed the new film to a similar degree to the original, you would be wrong.  “300:  Rise of an Empire” may look the same but it lacks the level of storytelling and intensity of the first film.
 
While I appreciated the nods to “300” with some shared characters and even using scenes that showed Gerard Butler, this film suffers from the lack of a charismatic actor in the lead.  While Sullivan Stapleton is a fine actor, he lacks the magnetism and energy of Butler.  When King Leonidas yells “This is SPARTA!!!” and kicks Xerxes’ representative down a well, it made a strong impression about the characters’ passion for his country and people.  Themistokles doesn’t create the kind of emotion nor does he seem to possess the same passion as his predecessor.  One wonders if he could get an army to follow him into battle against a superior force.  Eva Green is a far more compelling character as Artemisia but her being the antagonist would seem to play against the idea of both Persia and Greece being highly patriarchal societies.
 
There are also problems with the logic in some story elements.  Themistokles seems to be able to travel quickly from Athens to Sparta to the battlefield to Sparta to Athens and to the battlefield with very little time apparently passing.   He moves around the ancient world like there’s a train system taking him from place to place.  It becomes a bit comical as zips from one locale to another, making it back to the battlefield in time to take part in the next skirmish.
 
This story is a continuation of what occurred in “300” but it feels completely different.  Perhaps since most of the battles occur on the water, they lack the feeling of dread and imminent danger the hand to hand combat of the first film had.  These fights are also usually brief with a bit of action then a break until the next day.  Considering the overwhelming number advantage of the Persians, they would have just continued to throw ships at the Greeks until they won by attrition.  Artemisia states that as her plan at one point of the film but never follows through.  The whole film feels like a disjointed collection of scenes similar to the previous film that just doesn’t hang together.
 
“300:  Rise of an Empire” is rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language.  Arms, legs and heads are sent flying throughout the film with gallons of fake blood pouring out the bodies.  Computer generated blood spatter often comes flying with the impact of the blade, axe and arrow.  If viewing the 3D version, the blood spray is frequently headed directly at the viewer.  There is a graphic and rather violent sex scene where the couple throws each other around the room.  During this scene we see a woman topless and a man’s backside.  Foul language is infrequent.
 
While it shares much of the same visual style with its predecessor, “300:  Rise of an Empire” lacks the intensity of acting and consistency of story of the original.
 
“300:  Rise of an Empire” gets three blood-soaked guitars out of five.
 
Mr. Peabody & Sherman
 
Mr. Peabody (voiced by Ty Burrell) is the world’s smartest dog and the smartest creature on the planet.  Raised in an animal shelter, Peabody tended to put off prospective adopters with his intellect and vocabulary.  He was never adopted and had to find his own way in the world.  Focusing on his education, Peabody would become an expert in just about everything.  While walking home one day, he hears a baby’s cry coming from an alley.  He finds a baby wrapped in a blanket in a box with the name Sherman pinned to the blanket.  Mr. Peabody has to go to court to adopt Sherman (voiced by Max Charles) and proves he’s just as capable as any human to raise the boy.  Now seven-years old, Sherman starts school but has a run-in with Penny Peterson (voiced by Ariel Winter).  The two fight because Penny called Sherman a dog.  During the fight, Sherman bit Penny.  Mr. Peabody is called in for a conference with the principal where he meets Mrs. Gunion (voiced by Allison Janney) from Children’s Services.  She plans on visiting the posh penthouse apartment where Peabody and Sherman live and if she deems it a bad environment, she will take Sherman away.  Mr. Peabody invites Penny’s parents, Paul and Patty Peterson (voiced by Stephen Colbert and Leslie Mann), over for dinner in an effort to smooth everything over.  Peabody tells Sherman to entertain Penny while he talks with the Petersons.  Penny is rude and obnoxious, taunting Sherman about being a know-it-all when Sherman slips and mentions one of Mr. Peabody’s inventions; the WABAC.  It’s a time machine that lets them travel to the past and meet famous historical figures like George Washington and Marie Antoinette.  Penny convinces Sherman to use the WABAC, even though he’s not allowed, and show her how it works.  He takes her back to ancient Egypt where she meets a young King Tut (voiced by Zach Callison), is smitten and decides to stay and marry him.  Sherman returns to the present and tells Mr. Peabody what has happened.  Peabody manages to hypnotize the Peterson’s and he and Sherman return to Egypt to bring Penny back.  After discovering she will be killed and mummified at the time of King Tut’s death, Penny decides to head back to the present.  On the return trip, the WABAC loses power and the trio is forced to stop in Italy and meet with Leonardo da Vinci (voiced by Stanley Tucci), an old friend of Mr. Peabody’s, and devise a way to recharge the time machine.  Once they are back underway, more calamities cause Mr. Peabody and Sherman to question their relationship and their future as a family.
 
While “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” isn’t exactly a laugh riot, it provides enough humor, for both children and adults, to be well worth your time.  The message of family and sticking together despite the obstacles life puts in your way is well presented with a fair amount of action and mild peril to keep everyone interested.  The historical characters displayed with comedic and modern touches give the audience something both familiar and unique to look forward to as the WABAC is activated and begins barreling through time.  The more personal side of the film is also handled well, giving children and adults a dose, sometimes a heavy dose, of heart and emotion as this odd family struggles to deal with bizarre circumstances that threaten to rip them apart.  It’s a family film that is structured to teach and to entertain.  It does both very well.
 
Ty Burrell gives Mr. Peabody a sense of intelligence without making him completely an egghead who can’t deal with average people.  His speaking style is crisp and precise but still warm and relatable.  It’s a delicate balancing act that Burrell does quite well.  The rest of the cast is very good as well, especially Allison Janney as the evil Mrs. Grunion.  Janney’s voice is nearly unrecognizable as she puts on an aristocratic bearing that the character uses to intimidate people.  She is a thoroughly hissable villain who isn’t on-screen very much but makes a major impact when she is.  Patrick Warburton is also a standout at King Agamemnon who Peabody and Sherman meet inside the Trojan horse.  Warburton’s signature style of dimwittedness mixed with an excited, high-energy delivery makes his character one of the films funniest.  There’s also a memorable appearance by President Bill Clinton, whose voice is recreated by Jess Harnell, near the end of the film that gave all the adults in the audience the biggest laugh of the movie.  He utters only three words but they have an enormous impact.
 
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is rated PG for some mild action and brief rude humor.  There are some action scenes involving battles between armies as well as some harrowing escapes.  Nothing in the film is very intense.  There are also a couple of references to passing gas.  One time it is mentioned while the other is a visual joke.  Neither is vulgar in any way.  There is one scene involving the death of a character that might cause small children to be upset.  Since this is an animated film the character isn’t gone for long.
 
While it could have been funnier, “Mr. Peabody & Sherman” is a fun family film with a nice message about love and acceptance.  It won’t change the world but it might brighten the day of those who see it and you can’t ask a movie for much more than that.
 
“Mr. Peabody & Sherman” gets five guitars.
 
Fast cars, young detectives and single moms take to the Cineplex this week.  Vote for the next movie I see and review.
 
Need for Speed—Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is a blue-collar mechanic who races muscle cars on the side in an unsanctioned street-racing circuit. Struggling to keep his family-owned garage afloat, he reluctantly partners with the wealthy and arrogant ex-NASCAR driver Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper). But just as a major sale to car broker Julia Maddon (Imogen Poots) looks like it will save Tobey's shop, a disastrous race allows Dino to frame Tobey for a crime he didn’t commit, sending Tobey to prison while Dino expands his business out West.
 
Veronica Mars—On the eve of graduating law school, Veronica Mars has put Neptune and her amateur sleuthing days behind her. While interviewing at high-end New York law firms, Veronica gets a call from her ex-boyfriend Logan who has been accused of murder. Veronica heads back to Neptune just to help Logan find an attorney, but when things don't seem right with how Logan's case is perceived and handled, Veronica finds herself being pulled back into a life she thought she had left behind.
 
The Single Moms Club— When five struggling single moms put aside their differences to form a support group, they find inspiration and laughter in their new sisterhood, and help each other overcome the obstacles that stand in their way.
 
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
 
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.
 
Send questions or comments to stanthemovieman@att.net.  Follow Stan on Twitter @moviemanstan.