Review: 300: Rise of an Empire
PLOT: While the 300 Spartans face Persian ruler Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) at Thermopylae, Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to stop the Persian forces led by Artemisia (Eva Green) at sea with a rag-tag battalion of Athenian farmers and volunteers.
REVIEW: Sequel probably isnt the right word for 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Maybe side-quel would be more apropos, with the main action of the film coinciding with the events of 300. Remember the famous THIS IS SPARTA! scene where Leonidas kills the Persian Emissary? Well, turns out our new hero Themistokles was there too, observing from the sidelines. Coincidently, the only characters he interacted with are those played by returning cast-members Lena Headey and David Wenham.
As such, 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE cant help but feel like a b-storyline, with Themistokles struggles at sea lacking the drama or rousing camaraderie of Leonidas and his men. It doesnt help that where the first film had Gerard Butler and a soon-to-be-famous Michael Fassbender, in the sequel we get the unproven Sullivan Stapleton. As Australian actor best known stateside for his part in ANIMAL KINGDOM, and his role on the Cinemax show STRIKE BACK, Stapleton is a good actor, but a bad fit for this kind of movie. Gerard Butler can certainly be hit or miss, but it cant be denied he was at his very best playing Leonidas, giving the kind of over-the-top performance the movie needed. These films are so heavily stylized that you need a hero thats larger-than-life, and Stapleton is not up to the task. He may have Butlers six-pack, but hes too low-key in the part and comes off as terribly bland.
With Stapleton such a non-entity here, its no surprise the focus of the film drifts towards Eva Green as the Greek-born Artemesia. Green throws herself into the part with gusto. Only Green could get away with scenes like the one where she decapitates an Athenian soldier and then plants a passionate kiss on his lifeless head. Normally, such a scenery-chewing performance would be ridiculous, but here it works. Shes really the only one who even comes close to capturing the charisma of someone like Butler, and she utterly dominates the film whenever shes on screen. Luckily, director Noam Murro gives her a lot of screen time, with frequent cutaways to her in the heat of battle. The only time RISE OF AN EMPIRE almost recaptures the manic energy of the first film is during a great scene where Artemesia lures Themistokles for a parlay and winds up seducing him, resulting in a hilarious fight/sex scene that ends with a topless Green brandishing a sword.
Otherwise, the film is rather dull. Murro, whose only previous credit the indie comedy SMART PEOPLE makes him an unlikely choice to direct a 300 sequel does a relatively good job aping Zack Snyders style (with composer Junkie XL doing a solid job stepping in for Snyder regular Tyler Bates), even if he does it without any panache. Theres tons of gory action (like the first film, it embraces the R-rating), but nothing is especially memorable unless Green is involved. The action feels more like something from a 300-clone like IMMORTALS than the real thing. Truthfully, the big problem here isnt Stapleton. He doesnt help matters, but the screenplay (co-authored by Snyder himself) lacks drama. Themistokles doesnt have any of the motivation Leonidas had, being portrayed as just a dutiful soldier without any emotional attachments whatsoever, and its unlikely audiences will find themselves invested in his story. A sub-plot involving father-son soldiers played by Callan Mulvey and future-star Jack OConnell (STARRED-UP) seems promising at first, but neither is given enough screen-time to really make an impression.
While I dont think anyone really expected 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE to measure up to its predecessor, its disappointing that the film is so deadly dull. The filmmakers probably would have been better off if they had done a straight follow-up depicting the Spartan battle against Xerxes (whos barely in the film after the first twenty minutes) teased at the originals conclusion. RISE OF AN EMPIRE seems to exist as a stepping-stone for a whole series of follow-ups (with the ending all but promising a sequel) but its so bland that its a stretch to think anyone will be clamoring for another installment. Chalk this one up as a major letdown.
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