Directed By: Noam Murro
Written By: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey
Breaking new ground is certainly something to be admired. Being able to push the boundaries further is a rare feat that is inspiring to witness. The issue becomes what happens when that new ground becomes tired and worn? The inability to answer that quandary is a big reason squeals to visual spectacles rarely succeed. Their once flashy and new trend oversaturates the market to the point of ad nauseam.
With that issue in mind it is no wonder 300: Rise of an Empire does not work nearly as well as its predecessor. Director Noam Murro’s style is reminiscent to the original to a fault. It is akin to waiting eight years to make a sequel to the Matrix. We have seen this all before in more ways than one. Beyond the derivative visuals is a lack of the testosterone fueled energy that was so predominant last time around. Sure the mindless hack and slash action is there, but these characters are less defined and not nearly as interesting. Never does it become strong enough to carve its own legacy.
Oddly the film is part prequel, part sidequel, and part sequel. It opens with the Battle of Marathon, which was Persia’s first attempt to invade Greece. During the incursion a new hero arises as Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton ) takes down the Persian King with one well-placed arrow. Although his triumph helped win the war, he has regretted it since he let the arrow fly free. He realizes the wrath that will follow will be much worse.
As a character Themistocles is more even-keeled than you may expect. He has more of a tactical mind than the brash audacity of Leonidas. Sullivan Stapleton as an actor gives a solid performances, but his temperament does not necessarily match the mood of the film. He lacks the charismatic drive to push the film forward. Even the characters that surround him are nothing more than dim imitations—going as far as repeating the exact same plotline of a young son trying to prove his might to his concerned father.
Luckily Eva Green’s performance was there to salvage as much of the film as possible. Green plays Artemisia the leading naval officer of the Persian army. Green is an unassailable presence that reveled in her character’s lust for power. Her ferociousness made her gender a nonissue, but she also knew how to use her sex appeal to thwart the desires of her foes. Simply looking into her hypnotic eyes will cause you to become transfixed on her every movement. Easily she was the best aspect of the entire film.
We learn Artemisia has really been the puppet master all along, and her puppet has been the supposed God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). After Themistocles slew Xerxes’s father with his arrow Artemisia began to craft Xerxes into a leader of her own image, and brutally murdered anyone who got in their way. Xerxes transform into a statuesque figure that promises war and domination of the entire world starting with Greece.
Those who complained 300 lacked plot may regret what they wished for because Rise of an Empire suffers from too much narrative. It becomes this convoluted mess trying to sum up decades of dense history quickly and recklessly. One can easily become confused in this juggling batch of backstory, exposition,and inner connectivity.
Typically the deciding factor of the overall quality of a movie of this nature is how well the action is executed. Does it have that all important entertainment factor? At times the answer to that question is certainty yes. Much of the action involves the battling of naval ships on treacherous sea waters. It was a floating version of deadly chess. Each commander used everything at their disposal to gain an upper hand—a clever use of thick fog showed there was thought behind this madness.
Eventually all the over stylized action does become exhausting. There is a contention to follow the same design that has already been established. An over saturation of digital blood adds a great deal of unintentional comedy to some of the bigger moments, and the open sea scenery is not the most ideal location for the comic book like design. The wide open landscape makes the green screen effect much more evident. People don’t feel like they are a part of this world but standing by its side.
It all comes down to one simple fact—this is more of the same. Diehard fans of 300 will probably find no issue with that. Those who wanted to see a continuing evolution of the once inventive design will surely be disappointed. Movies like Immortals and even the television programs like Spartacus have taken what 300 created and popularized it even further. 300: Rise of an Empire may be a product of bad timing, but it is also a product of bad film-making. You may be able to scrounge up a few entertaining moments here and there, nevertheless 300: Rise of an Empire is a tale better left untold.