Film Review | 300: Rise of an Empire
Zack Snyder’s 300 was a surprise hit back in 2007, a veritable feast of stunning visuals, hyper-violent battles and quotable lines, the latter of which has predictably come back in vogue in the past few weeks. Snyder has since moved on to bigger and (arguably) more muscular heroes allowing Noam Murro – whose only previous filmmaking credit came with 2008’s Smart People – to step into the director’s chair for long-gestating follow-up 300: Rise of an Empire. Though the second instalment isn’t as proficient as its predecessor or the Spartans contained within it, the story expansion in addition to another welcome helping of spectacle make it a worthy addition to the saga.
Again based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel (though ‘Xerxes’ hasn’t been published yet) and fashioned as part prequel, part sequel, but mostly midquel, the narrative’s main focus this time round is on Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), a Greek general who plays a risky gambit to unite all of Greece against invading Persians ruled by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). At the helm of the would-be God-King’s forces is Artemisia (Eva Green), a skilled and vengeful naval commander.
It would be easy to criticise Rise of an Empire for being too similar to its predecessor, but this is far more than just a re-tread. A look at Xerxes’ rise to power adds some interesting details – and, more importantly, justification – for certain characters and the events of the first film are cleverly woven into its successor, helped by returning faces such as Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo and David Wenham’s Dilios.
That sense of familiarity is also inherent in the battle sequences. Snyder has a producer credit, and his visual style is very evident here from the extreme nature of the fatalities to the use of slo-mo. That gimmick is perhaps indulged a little too often, but the various skirmishes are by and large spectacular to watch, with Murro making the most out of the sea setting with some elegantly staged naval warfare. The 3D, as is often the case, adds little to the experience.
Among other triumphs one of 300’s successes was the spot-on casting, a feat which Murro only gets half-right here. Not helped by a script which is surprisingly short on the aforementioned quotable dialogue, Stapleton just about convinces as the heroic Themistokles but lacks the charisma and presence of Gerard Butler’s Leonidas. Elsewhere, Jack O’Connell is miscast as a soldier’s son eager for battle, and the father-son relationship – executed effectively in the previous film – fails to land the emotional moments.
Picking up much of that slack is Green’s scenery chewing performance as femme fatale Artemisia. Her backstory adds an interesting layer to the character, and scene-to-scene Green revels in playing this deliciously vile sociopath. Empire marks the first of five films Green is set to appear in this year, and her magnetic turn here kicks off her 2014 brilliantly.
If you weren’t a fan of Snyder’s original actioner then 300: Rise of an Empire won’t win you over, but there is plenty for 300 enthusiasts to enjoy. This may not be Sparta, but it is damn entertaining.
This review was originally published as This is Fake DIY.