REVIEW: “300: Rise of an Empire”

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I still remember the buzz surrounding Zack Snyder’s “300” when it hit theaters in 2007. The hyper-stylized comic book adaptation gained an enthusiastic following to the tune of almost $500 million at the box office. Seven years later a sequel came along but minus Gerard Butler, Michael Fassbender, and director Zack Snyder. Snyder did stay around to co-write the screenplay, but this time the directing reins were given to Noam Murro.

“300: Rise of an Empire” takes place before, during, and after the events of the first film. This time the main character is a Greek General named Themistocles. He’s played by Sullivan Stapleton, an actor who I really enjoyed in David Michôd’s “Animal Kingdom”. Themistocles kills King Darius of Persia as the king’s son Xerxes looks on. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) follows his father’s dying wish and journeys through the desert to a mystical cave. There he submerges himself in a pool of mysterious waters and eventually emerges as the god-king we see in the first film.

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Xerxes returns and declares war on Greece. He takes his army and faces Leonidas and his 300 Spartans (as seen in the first movie). At the same time Xerxes’ naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) takes a fleet and goes up against Themistocles in the Battle of Artemisium. From there the paper-thin plot navigates a series of dull fight scenes, a small bit of political wrangling, and plenty of forgettable exposition. It clearly aspires to be as stylistically hypnotic as its predecessor, but it never comes close.

Under Zack Snyder’s direction “300” had a captivating look. There was something harmonious and almost poetic about his bladed, blood-soaked ballet. Snyder’s camera placements, his use of slow motion, his fight scene choreography – all of it looked amazing despite their being little plot behind it. In “Rise of an Empire” the camera isn’t nearly as inventive. The slow motion is there but sometimes it is used in bewildering ways. The choreography occasionally shines, but it is just as often flat and unimaginative. All of this equals trouble for a movie whose bread and butter is the action.

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As you can expect from a “300” movie the plot is fairly plain although I was impressed with how they set up the sequel. There just isn’t much there after the table is set. Also most of the characters lack any charisma. The film really misses Butler, Fassbender, and company. But there is one cast member who actually saves this movie from completely sinking. Eva Green brings such voracity and spectacle to her character and she has a blast doing it. While Stapleton is quite dull as Themistocles, Green steals every scene with her mad, over-the-top performance. She single-handedly keeps this film above water.

Aside from Green “300: Rise of an Empire” doesn’t have a lot to offer. For those looking for blood and brawn, you’ll get it here at least in some degree. The first film wasn’t great but it handled its simple story well, its brutal visual style was impressive, and the characters had charisma. This time the story is dull, the action is dull, and the characters are dull with the one lone exception. In the end, Green can’t make this a good film, but she does make it watchable.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

14 thoughts on “REVIEW: “300: Rise of an Empire”

  1. Yeah this movie was a real throw away really . Trying to cash in on the first movies success . Its plot is paper thin and wasn’t really compelling at all . Eva Green is intense and brings some level of energy to the movie but the rest is a mess really .

    300 had a razor thin plot as well but the cast was able to save it along with Synders violent ballet of action and over the top use of slow mo blood letting. It was very unique but this movie had zero of that and was a hollow imitation .

  2. Yup. Agree with everything you said here. There was such a lack of energy and intrigue in Rise of an Empire. Its been soo long since I’ve seen 300, though. I need to go back and watch it again sometime.

    • It’s kind of a drag for sure. None of the energy or blood-splashed grit of the first film. Every bit of it felt like a weak imitation.

  3. I could tell that this was terrible even before it hit the theaters…. also, I’m not a great fan of the first one, although I appreciate some of its technical aspects!

    • I’ll admit to feeling the same way about the first film. I enjoy it despite its lightweight story. Mainly for the technical and visual zest. It looks so amazing. Nothing about the sequel matches it.

  4. Personally, I liked this movie. Yes, it wasn’t as great as 300, but it was still a fun side-story. Plus, I loved Eva Green in this movie.

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