The battle between the Greeks and Persians continues with 300: Rise of an Empire. While the 300 Spartans are off fighting against the “God king” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), an army of Athenian warriors, lead by Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), fights a water-bound battle against Greek-born Persian naval officer Artemisia (Eva Green). Themistokles has a personal burden in this war, since he was was the one who killed Xerxes’ father Darius a decade earlier, which helped to kickstart the God king’s reign of terror. As the battle rages on, Themistokles holds out hope that all of Greece, particularly Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) and the Spartans, would unite together against their common enemy of the Persians.
Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, 300 was a recreation of the historical Battle of Thermopylae, with the film probably being more well known for its highly stylized battle sequences and Gerard Butler’s battle cries than anything resembling historical accuracy. I remember absolutely loving the film when it was released in 2006, which was a time when these ultra-stylized films, shot mostly in front of a green screen, were still a rarity. Today, these types of films are all too common and there was no way that 300: Rise of an Empire was going to get the same type of reaction out of me.
The film is an adaptation of a sequel graphic novel by Frank Miller called Xerxes, which wasn’t even finished in time for the film’s release. As such, 300: Rise of an Empire is a strange case of an adaptation coming out before the source material. In fact, it could probably be argued that the screenplay (by the original film’s writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad) probably just used Miller’s plans as a guide for a story that is ultimately quite weaker than the original. Much of the story is taking place at the same time as (or just after) the original 300, though there are a few asides showing the backstories of both Xerxes and Artemisia. The story, which takes place primarily at sea, is not as compelling as the original 300 and Sullivan Stapleton as Themistokles is a far less charismatic protagonist than Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas.
In fact, it could probably be argued that the film has more interesting villains than heroes. Eva Green is particularly wicked as the film’s lead antagonist and also holds her own during the film’s big climatic fight scene. However, despite being a decent enough villain, there is one scene in the film involving both Artemisia and Themistokles, which is probably going to incite more groans and snickers than anything else. Also, it is interesting seeing the extended backstory for Xerxes, even though the character doesn’t figure much into the plot (it’s obvious they are hoping for a third film).
The one somewhat decent element of the film are the battle scenes, which feature gallons of digital blood flying in every direction (an obvious effect for 3D screenings). However, even though the violence was the best aspect of the film, it is not as “artistic” as the first film, which I thought really looked like graphic novel images recreated on the big screen. Here, it’s just a bunch of over-the-top violence, which doesn’t really help to improve the lackluster plot. Say what you will about Zack Snyder, but I believe part of the reason this sequel does not hold up to the original is that Snyder opted not to direct the film himself and the helm was given to director Noam Murro (whose only other feature film credit was the 2008 comedic-drama Smart People).
Overall, while the somewhat decent, and ultra violent, battle scenes brings the film up a few points, there wasn’t really much for me to take away from 300: Rise of an Empire.7 | FAIR