Zack Snyder's 300 isn't some bastion of cinematic quality, but it is an entertaining comic adaptation, not to mention visually innovative and influential for its time. Director Noam Murro definitely embraces the madness of the first film, creating something that's part crazy-eyed parody of the first movie, part ripoff of its own predecessor. In appropriate Frank Miller terms, it's more Dark Knight Strikes Back than Dark Knight Returns. And that's not a good thing.
Instead of creating new characters and situations for you to enjoy, RISE OF AN EMPIRE just wants to remind you how much you loved the original and not do any work. They bring back Queen Gorga and other random characters from the first movie. (Remember the nameless messenger that got kicked down a hole? Well, he's actually a badass who trained Eva Green.) They replicate the exact same father-son subplot. The hunchback returns to show you that his makeup still hasn't improved in seven years. Hell, Gerard Butler isn't in this one yet they continually mention Leonidas or show his dead body as much as possible.
That being said, three seconds of Gerard Butler's dead corpse was somehow more charismatic than Sullivan Stapleton's entire performance. And he's not alone. Nobody is memorable in this movie except for Eva Green's Artemisia. She's delightfully over the top, whether she's eating an apple or making out with a man's severed head. And her sex scene with Stapleton is both ridiculous and hilarious, completely fitting of Frank Miller's standards of gender politcs and power. I haven't laughed that hard at two people doing it since MACGRUBER.
Action-wise, the film disappoints as well. The speed-ramping fight scenes come off almost as parody at this point and the insane violence also borders on being a joke. Somebody could get a paper cut in this movie and it would gush gallons and gallons of blood. The focus on naval warfare, meant to be the focus of Miller's story, is cool for the first water battle but then becomes repetitive and boring. By the end, they're riding CGI horses from boat to boat and you can't believe this is really happening.
There's clearly an element of B-movie trashiness at play here that makes me hopeful that some of this was done purposefully. I mean, this war-glorifying film ends with a remix of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs," perhaps one of the most blatant anti-war songs ever recorded. Someone has to be screwing with us.
The Blu-Ray set is surprisingly filled with worthwhile content, a lot of which focuses on the real-life historical elements.
Behind the Scenes: The 300 Effect (29:57): This four part Making Of feature focuses on the inspiration behind Frank Miller's follow-up (besides the money, of course), the green screen production, lead actor Sullivan Stapleton, and the visual effects involved with staging epic sea battles. It covers a fair amount of detail in each, along with interviews with assorted cast and crew.
Real Leaders & Legends (22:52): Easily the best thing on this disc, this doc takes a look at the true history behind the film, a lot of which is more fascinating than this CG blood and guts adaptation. It covers the various real life battles, historical figures versus their on-screen counterparts, and what happened after this film ends.
Women Warriors (12:20): A look at the strong female characters played by Eva Green and Lena Headey and the average woman during the time of the story.
Savage Warships (10:35): A featurette on the naval battles featured in the film. It covers the strategies and technologies used by the Greeks, as well a real-life version of an Athenian ship.
Becoming a Warrior (4:40): A look at how the actors got in shape for their roles and how it differed from what Gerard Butler and Co. did for the first film.
If all you're looking for is violence, then you'll get your fill here. But 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE fails on pretty much every other level, except as an unintentional comedy. The Blu-Ray actually has some solid features on the real history behind the film, which is much more entertaining and useful.
Extra Tidbit: Despite featuring a number of famous naval battles, the film was shot entirely dry with digital water added later in order to make it look as fake as possible.