300: Rise of an Empire: Review

300-rise-of-an-empire-poster1Review by Alec R. Lee

This…is…better than expected?

Seven years down the road and we finally get a sequel to the mega popular historical fantasy film, 300, in the form of Rise of an Empire.  The film itself is based on the graphic novel sequel to 300, which at this time, remains unpublished.  Production problems and legal troubles would slow down the progress of the film coming to theaters but at that point, I doubt anyone had any high hopes for this film.  Sure, it’s produced by Zack Snyder, but after the disappointing basket case that was Man of Steel, his name is not held in such high regard these days.  Concern was also brought to the fact that the film features a mostly unknown cast as well as an unknown director who had never worked on a film of this scale before.  The odds were against this film from the get-go, but it actually comes together in ways that may surprise you.

300: Rise of an Empire takes place both before and after the events of 300. The editing is a little wack in some places but you will eventually figure out when the events depicted on screen are taking place.  The premise is familiar: the Persians are invading Greece but this time, the Athenians are the one trying to hold back the mighty army (instead of the Spartans, who were kind of killed off in the last movie).  The Athenians are led by a man called Themistocles, a proven warrior during the Persians’ initial invasion ten years prior to today.  Themistocles is a capable and cunning fighter and works to defend the Greek harbor from the invading Persian ships, led by Artemisia, a Greek woman who was rescued by the Persians and now commands their entire navy.  The Greeks and Persians duke it out from ship to ship (the majority of the fight scenes take place over water) to defend their homeland from the God-King’s wrath.

In terms of the cast, there are a few familiar faces from the first 300 movie. David Wenham and Lena Heady reprise their roles but are limited to nothing more than extended cameos. You have that odd hunchback that was in the first film, and that unfortunate Persian messenger that Leonidas booted down his well makes a brief yet pivotal appearance, oddly.  Rodrigo Santoro also reprises his role as Xerxes, the God-King, although he isn’t on screen as much as you think.  The film does explore his backstory a little and we get a few scenes of him and his calm, baritone voice, but nothing more develops of him.  That honor goes to his commander, Artemisia, played by Eva Green.  Green is absolutely insane in this role, she is a devil incarnate.  A woman scorned, she yearns to kill every Greek alive and make them drown in their own blood.  At one point, she beheads a dude and then proceeds to make out with his severed head.  Can’t say she’s not devoted. Heh.  As far as the lead goes, Sullivan Stapleton (who?) as Themistocles does not have the same kind of presence as Gerard Butler had with his Leonidas, but you have to consider that the Greeks are not as insanely devoted to combat as the Spartans were, and as such, this can be forgiven.  Stapleton does what he can with the role and, for the most part, is convincing as the leader of one of the greatest nations on Earth (at the time).  But, no, he doesn’t get any one-liners or creative zingers for you guys to remember.

If you consider both films back to back, Rise of an Empire noticeably has a different tone than the first 300 movie.  For starters, the switch of the setting to the sea changes up the game a lot.  You now have naval warfare as well as storming enemy ships in order to defend your lands.  It’s straight out of Age of Empires.  The fight scenes also shine with the choreography being swift, brutal, and in super slo-mo.  I know that I get tired of using slow motion because it’s rather cliched in films, but the use of it here, in such a stylized film, the filter really makes the action pop in a way that is quite beautiful.  The film is a little more gritty than its predecessor, as in the blood effects have a darker, thicker texture than the video game-styled effects from the first film.  There is a little more in terms of gore and Tom Holkenborg’s (aka Junkie XL) intense soundtrack ramps up the stakes in a way the first film failed to accomplish.  In fact, the soundtrack is even better than the first film because Holkenborg uses his time working on Man of Steel to bring some of the drums from that film into this one.  The resulting sound comes up with something that suspiciously sounds like General Zod’s theme but it’s less plagiaristic than Tyler Bates’ score, and less ethnically offensive.  There are less fantastical creatures in this film, no doubt the filmmakers wanted to ditch those ridiculous concepts in order to make the film more grounded (a wise choice).

So, what 300: Rise of an Empire is a sequel that manages to improve on the film that came before it by providing a good premise with a decent lead and a well-fleshed out villain (with a good backstory) and sprinkle in some zany action and you have a popcorn film that is fun for the 17+ crowd.  This isn’t a film that you should go to if you want a realistic or historically accurate epic, you go to these types of films to bask in the action and turn off part of your brain for a while.  It’s escapism at its finest.  Interestingly enough, the ending of the film hints that there is still enough material for them to continue the story (perhaps making a trilogy) because there are still too many plot threads left hanging for the studios to close off this particular franchise.  If they decide to make it, I will welcome it, as long as it doesn’t take them seven more years to do so.

Final Score: 70/100

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