300: Rise of an Empire Review

By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 7 out of 10

three_hundred_rise_of_an_empire_ver2In 2007, Zach Snyder broke into the scene with a faithful and action-packed rendition of 300, adapted from Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel of the same name.  Mixing style and action to immensely create a testosterone-fueled blood fest that brought audiences out in droves.  Snyder has since moved onto bigger and better projects such as the well-received Watchmen adaptation and the mediocre-at-best Sucker Punch and Man of Steel outings, but the world that Snyder helped establish in the Greek empire has now passed onto director Noam Murro, who brings us 300: Rise of an Empire with assistance from Snyder.  A very strong sequel in its own right, Rise of an Empire benefits from outstanding set pieces and action scenes along with an incredible turn from Eva Green, but simply cannot equal the game-changing nature of its predecessor.

Taking place alongside and after the events of 300, Rise of an Empire follows the journey of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), a naval commander of the Greeks who struggles to combat the immense army of the Greeks, led by the Persian God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).  At the command of Xerxes is Artesima (Green), a manipulative naval genius who commands the largest army on the sea to the objective of destroying Greece.  As these two mega-powers come barreling towards one another, a war rages while Themistocles works endlessly to get Greece to unite under one banner in order to defeat the Persians.

I loved the first 300 movie.  Watching it while a senior in high school, the entire experience was immensely satisfying.  The action was refined to near perfection, the visuals were great and Gerard Butler’s role as King Leonidas easily ranks amongst one of the best Spartan performances of all-time.  To follow up such a cult hit as 300 is a lofty task, especially with a new director and a relatively unknown cast.  However, the addition of Green in her role of Artesima almost justifies going to see the film on its own, as Green completely steals the show in her visceral and evil role as the Persian Naval Commander.

What makes Green so enticing in this role is her lethality combined with an immensely cunning and manipulative nature.  Early on in the film you can see how far the power of Artesima’s manipulation can push even the most confident of personas, leading you to believe that she is in fact the puppet master throughout the entire movie.  Once she realizes the brilliant strategist she faces in Themistocles, however, the game is elevated a few levels as the two consistently trade barbs, leading to some very interesting and sometimes humorous interaction between the two lead roles.

Stapleton goes a good job as the Greek naval commander, but falls short of the outstanding performance produced by Butler six years ago.  As the driving force of the film is the naval warfare, fans of the first movie expecting to see the land-heavy fights prevalent throughout the first installment, the naval battles will be a breath of fresh air but possibly disappointing for fans wanting more.  That said, the set pieces are immensely exciting as the visual style of the first film is concurrent throughout the sequel.  The slow-motion returns to a varying degree of success, but what will delight fans to a high degree is the gory nature of the sequel.  Rise of an Empire ramps up the visceral nature of war, as fans will see arms, heads and blood all over the screen, as blood splats hit the screen in a very-well crafted 3D spectacle.  It is a feast for the eyes even if the story at the end of the day seems redundant and recycled.

Rise of an Empire’s shortfall is the redundancy that is concurrent with the first film.  The action scenes are outstanding, but everything between each spectacle drags and ultimately pulls the movie down.  Before the initial conflict, the opening stanza of the film exploring Themistocles’ attempts to unite Greece simply comes off as fodder, as there is now real logistical purpose other than to set up the conclusion of the film, an attempt to ramp up the already epic nature of the film that doesn’t produce resounding effects, creating more of a flat ending that does not leave you asking for more.

300: Rise of an Empire is an entertaining blockbuster, but more likely than not will fail reach the same cult status that its predecessor created.  A passable sequel that is truly driven by its dominating antagonist, you will want to watch the original 300 almost directly after watching this moderately strong sequel, but walk out wishing that you left with the “wow” factor that you garnered watching Snyder’s 2007 spectacle.

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