300: Rise of an Empire Review

 THE RISE OF A SEQUEL


 

In 2007, Zack Snyder’s 300 was a memorable hit at the theaters. Loosely based on events in ancient times and styled in the fashion of Frank Miller’s graphic novel (which the film was more based on), the film was a success (Becoming one of the most successful movies that year) with its” R-rated” adrenaline tale of swords, blood, and a plethora of six packs abs to go around.  Gaining much fame (And money at the box office), an inevitable sequel was assuming by many and was soon granted by the Warner Bros. studio. Years have passed since 300 debuted and finally the long awaited sequel has arrived in the form of 300: Rise of an Empire. With a lengthy gap between the two films and a new director, does this sequel rise above its regarded predecessor or has the momentum gone out for this visual sword and sandals epic?

THE STORY


Years before the events of Leonidas, the 300 Spartans, and the Battle of Thermopylae, the Battle of Marathon took place and a skilled Athenian warrior named Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed the Persian king Darius; a grievance that Darius’s son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santos) will fuel a destructive revenge against the city-states of Greece. Years later, as Xerxes’s army clash against the Spartans at Thermopylae, Xerxes’s navy general Artemisia (Eva Green), a skilled female warrior who also shares a personally vendetta against the people of Greece, takes to the seas and marshals her Persian troops to decimate the Greek’s navy force. Seeking no help from Sparta, Themistocles musters what men he can to prevent Artemisia’s force from landing on Greek soil as seafaring battles of boats, swords, spears, and men lay ahead of him in the ongoing Greco-Persian War.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


I actually remember seeing the trailer for the original 300 movie and I actually didn’t think much of it. Thus, I passed on seeing it in theaters and I actually saw it on a plane while I was traveling to Europe on vacation. I couldn’t believe how much I liked it. Sure, it was violent, with plenty of blood and gore, but it was stylish in a way that hadn’t been done in recent Hollywood movies of that day (especially ones that told of ancient Greek mythology). Thus, I bought 300 as soon as it came out on DVD (and then eventually on Blu-Ray) as it became a personal favorite of mine in the action genre. I remember hearing all the talk of a 300 sequel, but nothing ever materialized for quite some time. Of course, I saw the trailer for Rise of an Empire and was completely taken, hoping that it would continue the story from where the original film left off. After seeing the movie, I felt that 300: Rise of an Empire was an interesting movie that carries the same stylish bravado from the first film. It was really good for sequel adventure, but still casted in the shadow of the theatrical predecessor.

When creating a second installment to a movie franchise, most films will choose a sequel (Taking place after the original film), while some might produce a prequel (taking place before the original film). Rise of an Empire is uniquely interesting because it forgoes those two traditional structures (More or less) and presents the film’s narrative as it runs congruently alongside the events of the original 300 film.  Viewers are transported away from Leonidas and the 300 Spartans (the Battle of Thermopylae) to the seas where Themistocles leads the charge against Artemisia in the Battle of Artemisium, which, according to both history and film, are occurring relatively at the same time. It’s a bold move that is rarely seeing in movies, though intriguing as the film is with its storytelling decision, it is it major drawback. Many viewers, including myself, have waited years for this sequel and were expecting to see a continuation of where the first film left off.

Unfortunately, Rise of an Empire sort of ends where the first one ended; leaving viewers pretty much at the same exact spot they were seven years ago. It doesn’t advance the story much further from the first film, but gives more depth and explanation of people, places, and events that took place surrounding the events from 300 (which can be a little disappointing).

Zack Snyder switches chairs from directing to producing as relatively unknown director Noam Murro steps up to direct this next 300 chapter. Surprisingly, Murro does a great job in capturing the same look and feel from the previous installment that truly “Wowed” people. Stand-out scenes and sequences of battling of ships on the high seas and clashing of swords of Greek and Persian forces are a visual feast that will surely please any viewer’s hungry for relentless blood and destructive warfare. Rise of an Empire also shakes things up for the action scenery, switching gears to the high sea with seafaring battles being waged throughout the course of the movie.

As it visuals and stylish fighting uphold the same standard from the first 300 film, Rise of an Empire as a good cast; many of which have been call backed to reprise their role from original film. Sullivan Stapleton, most notably for the film Animal Kingdom and Cinemax’s Strike Back TV show, plays the movie’s lead character Themistocles. He has the muscular physique and leadership quality to fill the lead role for this tale and does good job pulling it off, but lacks that special something that actor Gerard Butler brought to the lead character of Leonidas from the first one. In truth, Stapleton is slightly upstaged by the film’s lead villain Artemisia played by Eva Green. Her performance is worth the price of admission alone as Green’s character is deliciously beautiful, but ruthlessly cunning and manipulative; a tried and true villain that many, including myself, love to watch on-screen.

Returning to this theatrical depiction of the Greco-Persian War is Rodrigo Santoro as omnipotent god-king Xerxes. His origin of how he transforms himself into his godly form is depicted in the movie’s beginning and is a quite interesting piece to reveal. He appears in the movie in several scenes; letting Artemisia her own devices and attends to matter of the 300 Spartans soldiers at the Hot Gates. Lena Heady also returns as the role of Queen Gorgo of Sparta. Again, like Xerxes, her appearances are briefly sprinkled throughout the film as she also lends her voice to the film’s narration for exposition. Also returning are David Wenham as the Spartan Dilos, Andrew Pleavin as the Greek Daxos, and Andrew Tiernan as the grotesquely misshapen Ephialtes. Given the fact that all these people came back to portray their character from 300, it’s sad that Gerard Butler didn’t return to reprise his role as Leonidas of Sparta; once scene in particular presented itself where Butler could’ve come back and it would’ve great to see him again in that character.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Swords, sandals, and the raging sea clash in 300: Rise of an Empire. The long awaited sequel doesn’t really advance the story forward, but rather side-steps viewers with a tale that harps upon the first entry a little too much. However, once you accept that fact (as I did), 300: Rise of an Empire is a satisfying and entertaining movie that carries the same epic bravado and visual spectacle of which made the first 300 movie famous and beloved by many. Personally, I liked it, perhaps a little more than the average moviegoer. Here is to hoping that we’ll see a 300-esque Battle of Platea film on the big screen sometime in the near future, continuing this cinematic tale of the Greco-Persian War.

4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)

 

Released On: March 7th, 2014
Reviewed On: March 7th, 2014

300: Rise of an Empire  is rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language

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