What made the original 300 so awesome back in 2007 was a combination of stylish action, over the top violence, and the element of surprise. 300: Rise Of An Empire lacks the surprising out-of-nowhere quality of its predecessor, but it succeeds in it’s action and set pieces created by director Noam Murro, and producer Zack Snyder (director of the first film), all under the watchful eye of Frank Miller, who created the graphic novel the films are based on.
Rise Of An Empire acts a quasi-sequel/prequel to the first film. Filling in gaps unnoticed in the story of Leonidous and his elite squad. This story centers on Themistocles and the Athenians as they battle the unstoppable Persian Army. Themistocles, played by Sullivan Stapleton, hopes that all of Greece can unify to destroy this common enemy. He works well as the lead of the film but he lacks the raw star quality of Gerard Butler. The “God-King” Xerxes is just as blinged out as ever, and his desire for world domination is still never explored.
His naval commander Artemisia is played by Eva Green, and she does an amazing job here. It’s clear she had an great time playing this ruthless villain. She’s cutting off heads, swinging swords and screwing her way into my heart throughout this movie. She chews up every scene she’s in despite the thin plot of the film. Her character is fleshed out effectively and her motivations make the most sense is this pseudo-historical context. The tension between her and Themistocles is palpable and has a pretty satisfying climax and conclusion.
The fights in this movie are great, and that should be assumed. The computer generated scenery looks better than ever, and the slow motion is slower than ever. Many of the battles take place on boats, and the naval combat works very well. The different tactics Themistocles uses against the Persian troops keep the action from becoming redundant. One in particular has the Athenians using fog to lure the enemies into rocks, followed by an epic ambush.
Where this movie suffers is how much it leans on the first film. Zack Snyder did an amazing job making you feel how important those 300 men were. Their mission was the center of this movie universe, and because of this, Rise Of An Empire never becomes its own movie. Themistocles never rises to the heights of Leonidous in battle or in speech. And the Athenian warriors aren’t as Diehard as the Spartans.
The movie ends up being good, but not great. If you enjoyed the original you’ll be happy with this film but it’s not nearly as grand or heroic as 300. Plus this movie is about five years late to the party, but what do I know.