Rugger Review – 300: Rise Of An Empire
Summary: While King Leonidas and his brave “300″ fight off Xerxes’ armies at the Hot Gates, Athenian general Themistocles takes a small army of free Greeks to fend off the Persian navy, who are under the command of the formidable Artemisia.
300 was released eight years ago and was both a critical and commercial hit worldwide. Ever since, studios have been clambering to find an answer to the question; how do you make a sequel to a film where the majority of the characters are dead?
The simple answer was to not make it a traditional sequel. Originally set to tell the story of Xerxes rise to power (which is evidently brushed over rather quickly here), Rise of an Empire is a “side-quel”. That is, it takes place concurrently with the Spartan battle of the previous film.
We begin at the final moments of 300, with Leonidas quickly losing his head following his brave last stand. The film then flashes back over a decade, allowing us to witness the death of Persian King Darius by Themistocles, thus setting in motion the God-King’s rise to power.
Then another jump in time again to just before the events of the first film, with Themistocles finding himself out of luck when it comes to recruiting the Spartan navy to aid in his battle with Artemisia.
Anyone not paying attention may find the narrative techniques here a tad confusing, especially if you miss the fact that the events here are taking place at the same time as 300. The monotonous narration, however, should keep you on track.
It takes a while for battle to commence, with the politics of going to war dragging on longer than it really should. What is interesting though is the difference between Leonidas and Themistocles when it comes to their politics.
Where Leonidas did everything in his power to fight, eventually defying his council to march to war, Themistocles is trying to unite Greece in the defiance of tyranny, through his words as much as actions. He agonises sending his men to war and doesn’t believe in the glory of death.
Fortunately for us, his words are meaningless, and war is a must. With his limited numbers, he takes on the might of Artemisia’s navy with tactics that separate him from being just another soldier.
It’s here that the film really gets going. Incoming director Noam Murro (taking over from Zack Snyder who was off doing Man of Steel) doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but he does imitate Snyder’s speed-ramping direction so perfectly, you would think Snyder was still behind the camera.
This speed up-slow-down-speed up style was unique eight years ago when the first film was released, but has been repeated so many times since (mostly by Snyder) that it feels dated here. It is often over-used but thankfully makes the 3D that little bit more tolerable.
Make no mistake, the action is as good here as in the previous film, with blood and limbs everywhere and the clanging of swords rarely relaxes in the second half. Yet, you can’t help but feel that Rise of an Empire exploits the strengths of the first film without ever really embracing anything new.
Another issue is the casting. Where 300 had a growling Gerard Butler and great support from the likes of Michael Fassbender and Lena Headey (underused here), ROAE is landed with Sullivan Stapleton, who, while serviceable enough, lacks the gravitas that Butler brought to the hero role.
As a leading man, he is completely overshadowed and upstaged by Eva Green at every opportunity, her turn as the vengeance obsessed Artemisia being the films highlight. She has some of the best lines and the few limited laughs, and you truly believe that she could defeat any of these men in a fight.
Switching to the high seas does offer ROAE the chance not to be a carbon copy of the first film, but you can’t help but feel this is a needless sequel in the hopes of kick-starting a franchise. Where 300 was fresh and added something new to the sword and sandals epic, Rise of an Empire feels slightly dated, coming almost a decade after Snyder once made it cool.
Final Verdict: Eva Green is the standout in what is a well though-out, yet unnecessary sequel. The action is brutal and effective and while Rise of an Empire is enjoyable for the most part, it all feels just a little hollow.
Star Rating: 3/5
* Review by Stephen Connolly