Movie Review: 300: Rise of an Empire
300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
Director: Noam Murro
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro, Eva Green, Lena Heady, Hans Matheson
A 300 sequel was an inevitability as certain as death and taxes. Senseless and violent as it may have been, 300 was an entertaining and quotable pop culture sensation that revitalized the sword-and-sandal genre with a level of thrilling scenery and epic battle sequences rivaled only by Gladiator. It might not be much for intellectual stimulation — or historical accuracy matter, unless you prefer your Greek history served with a dash of American imperialism — but the distinctive style, rousing energy and heaping amounts of fun that defined 300 established Zack Snyder as one of the most promising and visually gifted modern action movie directors.
However, 300: Rise of an Empire loses nearly everything that made the first movie worth watching by trying too hard to take itself seriously.
The tangential storyline takes place concurrently with 300, revisiting the Greco-Persian wars from the perspective of Athenian leader Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), who attempts to defeat the Persians by forming an alliance with the other Greek provinces. United, he leads the empire in massive battles on land and sea against the Voldermort-esque Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and their ultra-violent Queen Artemisia (Eva Green). Countless motivational speeches and buff Herculean bods soon follow.
Rise of an Empire is more or less the same movie as 300, but worse. Though directed by Noam Murro instead of Zack Snyder, he uses his producer credit to smear his style all over it. The similar tone is established within the first five minutes with a slow-motion fight scene, a distinctively Snyder technique that can be effectively dramatic, but is here used to excess, rendering the action sequences dull and predictable.
The few main differences from the first movie are almost all negative. Stapleton is nowhere near as charismatic as Gerard Butler as a protagonist. His brooding stares and glum seriousness make him a bore to watch, and for almost two hours he remains a remarkably uninteresting and generic cookie-cutter archetype of a heroic character. For comparison, the much more interesting looking villain, Xerxes, is given less than 20 lines total.
Visually, the monochrome golden sheen that characterized 300 is contrasted with the addition of a bland shade of blue that looks quite ugly and metallic. It is predominantly used during the last portion of the film for the wars at sea, which are quite epic in scale, but suffer from the same flaw as Pacific Rim: They all take place during storms at night, making it difficult to tell what’s going on. The use of 3-D mostly serves to make the blood pop out at the viewer, adding absolutely nothing to the film.
The biggest flaw of Rise of an Empire, however, is the unnecessary amount of time it spends disguising itself as something of actual substance by blatantly explaining the plot and detailing the backstories of its ultimately forgettable characters. These attempts to establish itself through gratuitous narration and ham-fisted dialog only detract from the spectacular bloodshed that is at the core of the film’s sole purpose for existence. For every action sequence there are at least two cliché motivational speeches that fail to excite or inspire whatsoever. The more dramatic angle might work for some action, but in Rise of an Empire, it just feels like meaningless pomp and circumstance to accompany the gore.
If there’s anything redeeming about Rise of an Empire, it’s Eva Green’s commanding performance as queen Artemesia, the most talented presence on screen and one of only two women in the cast (both of whom, interestingly enough, are ultra-violent warriors). Not only does she provide the film’s sole moment of comic relief, but she brings a sense of over-the-top theatricality with her hyper-violent portrayal of a Persian warlord that is a solid new addition that captures the essence of the original. If she wasn’t such a stock character and wasn’t portrayed in typically sexist fashion as an enemy meant to be dominated by hulking shirtless men, the film might be a little more interesting.
Despite being such a disappointing follow-up, Rise of an Empire’s ending leaves it wide open for a sequel, and if the movie does well at the box Office, we can expect more bland 300 films for generations to come.