“ was a showcase for special effects, excessive carnage, and bloodsoaked warfare that became tiresome after about thirty-minutes. Its sequel is a showcase for special effects, excessive carnage, bloodsoaked warfare, and Eva Green’s breasts.”
When it came time to write my review for 300: Rise of an Empire, I was tempted to publish my original review of Zack Snyder’s 300, making necessary adjustments to plot, actors, and crewmembers, before just re-releasing it and calling it the review for 300: Rise of an Empire. As unethical as that would’ve been, it would’ve been pretty appropriate for the occasion. Scarcely have my opinions on a film’s sequel been so closely in line with its predecessor and not in a particularly good way.
Initially, I was baffled at how a sequel to 300 could be made. I thought the first one, even if it was mediocre, opened and concluded nicely within the realms of efficient storytelling and didn’t need another film leaching off its name. I’ll be the first to admit, however, I was not a fan of the original film. It was a showcase for special effects, excessive carnage, and bloodsoaked warfare that became tiresome after about thirty-minutes. Its sequel is a showcase for special effects, excessive carnage, bloodsoaked warfare, and Eva Green’s breasts.
The film follows with what appears to set up an origins/rebirth story of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who is brought back to life by King Darius’ naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) an immortal god. However, focus abruptly shifts to Artemisia’s commanding duties of a large sector of Persians despite having “Greek blood running through her veins” and the man who killed King Darius who goes by the name of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). Themistocoles must now defeat a new wave of Persian soldiers under a whole new empire led by Artemisia and Xerxes.
Being that the opening sequence chronicles Xerxes being reborn and brought back to life by Artemisia as a god, one would reasonably assume that’s who the film will spend the most time focusing on. However, Artemisia would appear to get the most screentime as a whole, as we see her rise to power, her offbeat and often uncomfortable relationship with Themistocles, and her reign in the shadow of Darius’.
The character of Artemisia has the luxury of being portrayed by Eva Green, a very capable actress who again makes it a priority to find a segment in her role that allows her to free herself from the shackles of her clothing. In 300: Rise of an Empire, she finds the perfect moment during a sex scene involving Themistocles, which would find a nice place on a site that houses rough-sex fetish videos. I have no idea what writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad were going for with the scene, but tonally it’s strange, and whether you judge it on the basis of being arousing or exciting, it falls flat in both departments.
Green had proven herself worthy of a great deal of screentime with her breakout performance in The Dreamers, a quaint little gem about sex, lust, and the student movement in 1960’s France. Even in Tim Burton’s mixed-bag Dark Shadows there was quite a lot of fun to be had watching her. Here she further assures her beauty in darkly-colored garb, black mascara, and pasty-white skin, and, to be fair, is an unpredictable thrill as Artemisia.
If only Snyder and Johnstad’s writing were as good as the film’s supporting performance by a woman who isn’t even close to being a household name. When you cut to it, 300: Rise of an Empire is the same film as its predecessor, only with a slightly tweaked plot. It still bears a narrative with little depth, a central character who is too cold and vacant to any feelings for, and long, dreary action sequences that mirror a video game in almost every regard.
Consider an early battle, where swords are being used to slice every limb of its carrier’s enemy. Whenever the action figure we are presently focusing on commits a tricky, violent move with his weapon, director Noam Murro and editors Wyatt Smith and David Brenner decide to throw in slow motion effects, enhance the white balance of the picture, and populate the screen with thick, red blood which mirrors grape jelly. All that’s missing are obnoxiously big letters to cover half the screen stating, “COMBO ATTACK.”
Murro, however, does come close to matching the large-scale directing style of Snyder’s with the original 300. For an actor that has only directed one other film (an indie comedy-drama, similar to how Marc Webb went from directing (500) Days of Summer to The Amazing Spider-Man), his transition from small-scale to large-scale could’ve been a rocky one, but the end result is quite impressive and favorable in terms of how Murro incorporates several different action landscapes, be it seascape warfare, battlefield warfare, or simple sequences that show off the film’s lavish and incredible art direction (IE: the scene where Xerxes is reborn and walks out onto a ledge above countless Persian fighters awaiting his return.
300: Rise of an Empire concludes with a beautiful credit sequence involving animated sequences that beautifully replicate those found on the pages of a graphic novel. If I do have to sit through another 300 film, I silently hope it looks like how the credits of this film did.
Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic