300: Rise of an Empire is the sequel that the innovative 300 didn’t really need. As with the original, it’s a tale loosely based in Greek history filmed with a cast of six-pack flaunting actors (and two supremely beautiful women) against a CG environment. What was once ground-breaking is now pretty much old hat and the story is dwarfed by the carnage to the point that it becomes Pythonesque.
Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel Xerxes, 300: Rise of an Empire briefly sketches in the history behind Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) determination to conquer Greece – the death of his father, King Darius (Igal Naor) ten years before by Greek warrior/philosopher/politician Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton, Strike Back) when Darius took affront to the Greek experiment with democracy and waged war upon it. Xerxes witnessed his father’s death and vowed revenge.
Darius’ most accomplished general, Artemisia (Eva Green), tells Xerxes that the Greeks cannot be defeated by other than a god and so Xerxes wanders into the desert until he finds a hermits’ cave where he becomes the god-king – ten-feet tall, hairless and bedecked with all manner of golden ornamentation. He returns home, gathers his army and navy and sets out to destroy Greece.
The encounter between Artemisia’s naval command and the much smaller Athenian navy takes place, historically, about the same time as Leonidas and his personal bodyguard of 300 Spartans are fighting the Persian army to standstill at Thermopylae. The early results are the same – Themistokles’ more maneuverable vessels dart among the Persian behemoths, ramming them amidships to sink dozens for every Greek vessel even damaged. But Artemisia has a thousand ships…
Not letting details (like Artemisia, who was real but only commanded a handful of ships) get in the way of an ostensibly good yarn, writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad have fashioned a script that lacks the verve of the original and pass it off to a new director, Noam Murro (Smart People).
Since 300 came out, we’ve seen a lot of films that have relied heavily on CG, the best and most recent being Gravity. In that time, Starz’ Spartacus series employed much the same style and palette as 300 to tell the story of the gladiator/slave who rebelled against Rome. In that show’s four seasons, we got better writing, close to equal CG and easily as much (and as creative) violence.
The one ace-in-the-hole that 300: Rise of an Empire has is Eva Green. Her beyond camp performance as Artemisia is so far above and beyond the material that it sticks out like the blood that splatters into the audience in 3D. In fact, the entire cast is better than the material – it’s just that Green seems almost possessed by her role.
And when I say 300 MKII is occasionally Pythonesque, I am not kidding. There’s a sequence in which an Athenian hacks off a Persian warrior’s arm and then his leg. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking, ‘It’s a flesh wound!’ In this case, though, Pythonesque is not a good thing. That is not what the movie’s creative team had in mind. Not at all…
Yes, technically (and technologically), 300: Rise of an Empire is superior to its progenitor. Absolutely. Unfortunately, in trying to top 300, it has gone too far in almost every respect – except writing, with the result that it frequently seems like a parody of itself. Even Eva Green’s performance is not enough to recommend this film – though a rental might be worth it.
Final Grade: D+
Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures