The original 300 was a film drowning in as much cheesy splendour as there was blood. Seven years on and 300: Rise of an Empire is the unnecessary sequel, or “sidequal”, that tries to deliver that same ham-fisted entertainment as its original, albeit without the same director, cast or Zack Snyderisms that forged the first one. From the same creators as Sin City (another film with an unwanted sequel this year), this battle-bonanza depicts everything that happened off-screen in the first film with the Athenians. What Noam Murro fails to realise however is that the Athenians were off-screen in 300 for a reason. It’s hard not to compare this with the original most of the time, especially with the constant ‘this is Sparta!’ references. It almost verges on the Athenians admitting how inferior they are to the Spartans; both on the battlefield and the big-screen. Clearly the heroes of this historical abridgement are far less dynamic than their predecessors – they lack the confident, macho barbarism of the Spartans. Sure, the shift from armies to navies allow something new to occur in the franchise’s action scenes, yet the soldiers are all walking meat bags without any of the ridiculous entertainment value as their military neighbors. Even with nearly double the first 300‘s budget, the aesthetic seems almost downgraded from the last one (maybe due to the absence of Synder’s stylistic palate of colours and design). It’s an odd element to point out, but with a film that brags bodies and blood they sure have cheap effects for them. When design serves as such a critical feature for your film, it’s a fatal blow to have them at a second-rate standard.
Our hero Themesticles, played by Sullivan Stapleton, doesn’t help either. He certainly does try to shout and stab with as much energy as Gerad Butler’s Leonidas, but he doesn’t quite measure up to be the inspiring leader you’d imagine from this genre. Perhaps it’s one of those occasions where more is more for Stapleton’s character. Eva Green is entertaining in her performance as Persian warrior Artemisia, playing up to the insane scene-chewing villainy expected from this sort of film. Despite the absurd levels of testosterone in the film, Eva Green is easily the most engaging character because of this flamboyant portrayal. It’s a shame that her character is poorly written: as the supposed true mastermind, the ultimate warrior and the Persian Napoleon, she really never comes across as a deadly threat on the battlefield. While we are told countless times she has laid waste to numerous kingdoms, her armies fail time and time again, while her first military strategy is… seduction? Really? The Persians themselves aren’t much of a threat anyway, and their incompetence at least puts Eva Green in a more menacing light. The story isn’t anything special either, nothing more than big naval battles with dialogues about the next fight interspersed between them.
The sub-plot between Jack O’Connell’s Calisto and Callan Mulvey’s Scyllias is a nice echo to the father/son story in the first 300, but their characters just seem really pointless to the overall film unfortunately. I did enjoy the end credits however (no that’s not a joke); the animated effects of the credits were actually a nice surprise of stylistic violence and action that I wasn’t expecting once it was over. But with all these onslaughts of criticisms, it’s hard to judge a film like this too harshly, what was I expecting? It pretty much delivers on all fronts as a bloodbath of testosterone, and at least it doesn’t attempt to be anything else. Sometimes you have to admire the honesty of a film’s intentions. What really hits the film is the omission of personality: it’s the same as the original 300, but now with that Snyder-style gone, the holes in Rise of an Empire make it quickly sink into the depths of mediocrity.
Director: Noam Murro
Writers: Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Jack O’Connell
Run Time: 102 mins