Let’s be honest for a second here: Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 is not really a good film in the truest sense of the word. It doesn’t have much of a story, the acting for the most part is decent but not truly noteworthy and it gets rather silly in places. That being said though, what it is, is really, really f–king cool. This coolness was achieved through infinitely quotable dialogue, incredible visuals, eye catching cinematography and larger than life characters. Also, lots of ripped abs.

And for the most part, director Noam Murro’s prequel/sequel copies all of these things quite well. Kind of.

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Let’s just get the loin-clothed elephant in the room out of the way immediately: leading man Sullivan Stapleton’s Athenian general Themistocles is simply a poor man’s King Leonidas. Unlike previous star Gerard Butler, you will probably not be seeing Stapleton’s face adorning internet memes about pasta and car starters anytime soon. He takes a character that actually has a lot more to him than the shouty, one-note Leonidas, and somehow makes him less interesting to watch on screen. He does a superb job in the film’s various orgasmically bloody battles, and he never does anything overtly wrong on screen, but every time he starts a pre-fight speech (and trust me, there are several), you can’t help but get the feeling that that you’ve seen this done better before.

Not helping Stapleton’s cause is the fact that he gets severely overshadowed in virtually every scene he shares with Eva Green’s deliciously vicious Artemisia. This is Green at her prime as she prowls through every scene, with both the unfortunately inadequate men around her and the audience never knowing what she’s going to do next. There’s a reason this movie was originally titled 300: Artemisia, as her feral, scenery chewing/sexing Persian navy commander doesn’t only own every frame of film she’s in, but her actions are actually what drives most of the film’s story.

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Said story taking place both 10 years before Leonidas and his 300’s standoff at Thermopylae, and also during and after the Spartans’ fall. Through narration by Leonidas’ wife, Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), we learn how in a failed earlier attempt to invade Greece by the Persians, it was Themistocles’ arrow that slew Persian King Darius at the Battle of Marathon. But he chooses not to also kill Darius’ son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), setting into motion the events that would echo through time.

With Darius’ death, Artemisia, his best and most brutal commander – and who also has her very own reasons for hating the Greeks – sets about transforming (through a very poorly explained sequence) the foppish Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) into the god-king that would eventually attempt to crush the world beneath his golden heel. Except soldier-politician Themistocles once again has something to say about that. Now if he can just convince the other Greek city states to stand together in an united defence…

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This time around the script is co-penned by Snyder and Kurt Johnstad from Miller’s not yet released graphic novel “Xerxes” (which means Murro had no graphic novel to pull from, which occasionally shows in some unimaginative framing). Most annoying about the script though is the film’s countless shoutouts to the Spartans, because clearly if there isn’t a constant reminder, audiences will just forget that this was a sequel to 300. Clearly.

You may have seen my mention of navy previously, and this is really what sets this movie apart from its predecessor. While there is once again plenty of blood drenched sword and spear slinging action, the majority of the battles take place at sea, with Themistocles and his small collection of Greek ships attempting to outwit the gargantuan juggernaut that is the Persian fleet led by Artemisia.

Movies based around naval battles are rarer than a Spartan warrior with a boep pens, so these grandly staged and visually arresting battles really were a breath of fresh air. While these scenes were often a technically impressive feast of CGI landscapes, what didn’t help is the fact that these sea battles mostly happen at night, something that is not quite conducive to the film’s otherwise rather well done 3D effects.

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Murro mostly copies his predecessor’s bombastic directing style, though at times he occasionally slips a bit of grittiness into all the slow-mo speed ramping so that it almost feels like Snyder by way of Paul Greengrass behind the camera. But although Murro does a pretty effective Snyder impersonation visually, his direction just lacks that spark of creativity, that same level of cool flair, which unfortunately means that you will probably forget most of the set pieces the minute you walk out of the cinema.

The same goes for the rest of the film’s supporting cast, who with the possible exception of Callan Mulvey’s Scyllias, all instantly induce acute cinematic amnesia (which totally sounds like a real thing!) as they make very little impact on the audience, whether it be their head or their heart.

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In fact, don’t expect to engage your grey matter much at all. This, just like its predecessor, is a brutish action film where big muscled men do violently creative things to each other with with all manner of sharp, pointy objects, all for our base entertainment. And in that regard, 300: Rise of an Empire succeeds wildly. But while it boasts a delectable villainess, mostly striking eye-candy and a few good action beats, it just always feels a step off, just a tad played out, relegating this to nothing more than a reasonably entertaining, if instantly forgettable diversion.

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Last Updated: March 4, 2014

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24 Comments

  1. Nice write up man. I’ll see if I agree on Thursday 😛

    Reply

  2. Skyblue

    March 4, 2014 at 22:19

    Called it, knew it was gonna be shite. Fuck it, gonna go watch Robo again just annoy the fuck outta James.

    Reply

    • Kervyn Cloete

      March 5, 2014 at 10:59

      Don’t get me wrong, it’s not shite by a long shot. There’s plenty to enjoy in it (and less picky cinemagoers will probably enjoy it even more), it’s just not as good as the first film was. That being said, Eva Green just owns this movie.

      Reply

    • James Francis

      March 6, 2014 at 10:11

      It’s WAY better than Robo and as Kervyn said, worth it just for Eva Green.

      Reply

  3. Alien Emperor Trevor

    March 5, 2014 at 11:37

    So it’s a decent action movie. That’s all I expected & wanted from it. SOLD.

    PS. If you want to see Spartan warriors with boeps you need to watch 305.

    Reply

    • James Francis

      March 6, 2014 at 10:12

      I’d not say that it’s a decent action movie. It could have been, but I found the action bits rather muddled and the bits in between mostly distracting. But it’s okay. I might be kinder had the world not also seen Spartacus.

      Reply

  4. James Francis

    March 6, 2014 at 10:10

    At one point I was expecting a horse to give a speech too… I loved Eva Green in this – she totally owned the film, though eventually the whole film ends up relying on her. As the review said – everything else is quite forgettable.

    But the real problem is story overkill. There is too much background and they really could have just picked this up from the end of 300, instead of going back and forth in such an annoying fashion. The movie constantly tries to compensate for something, though what that is nobody knows (not even the film)…

    The fights were lavish, but generally poorly executed and hard to follow. Often it was hard to get a real sense of the naval battles. The final battle is a big disappointment – I really thought it would be bigger.

    Finally, I was a tad annoyed at the whole ‘farmer, poet’ yarn that kept going through. It supports this narrative of the first movie but is incredibly inaccurate. The Athenian hoplites and navy were legendary. Also, the film keeps focusing on the Persian slaves and ignores that the Greeks had plenty of slaves too…

    Reply

    • Kervyn Cloete

      March 6, 2014 at 10:36

      Well the Greek slave issue is address by Artemisia’s backstory.

      And yeah, final battle definitely needed a bit more oomph.

      Reply

      • James Francis

        March 6, 2014 at 10:44

        That wasn’t really addressing much, especially when they kept going on about ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. In fact, that whole bit was just a cheap attempt at a back story, which we really could have done without. The first film didn’t need a Xerxes back story to make him seem properly dangerous.

        But that the film kept pumping those ‘freedom’ themes got annoying – like a drunk guy with a bad opinion, but he keeps repeating it because he thinks he’s right.

        I also got annoyed at the Spartan queen: she refused to join the Athenian cause, but later she blamed them for her husband’s death. It was fantastically lazy writing.

        Reply

        • Kervyn Cloete

          March 6, 2014 at 11:07

          I never said it addressed those issues well 🙂

          Reply

  5. James Francis

    March 6, 2014 at 10:13

    Ah, I want to add – the 3D in this is really nice.

    Reply

    • Kervyn Cloete

      March 6, 2014 at 10:37

      Indeed it was. Best I’ve seen in a while.

      Reply

  6. DarthZA

    March 6, 2014 at 10:35

    I thought it was really good. I honestly believe it is the best movie at the cinemas rights now (unless Wolf of Wall Street is still showing by you). It was a pretty solid action movie. The best way to describe the movie would be to compare it to 300 and the armies the movies focused on.
    300 focused on the Spartans. They were well trained, structured, fearless and precise. The movie flowed smoothly, knew exactly what it was doing at all times. It did what it set out to do, and nothing else.
    Rise of an Empire focuses on the Greeks. They were not well trained, and they lacked the precision and structure that the Spartans had. They might not have been fearless, but they were ambitious. The movie does not flow that well, it feels a bit all over the place at times. But it does have nice, big over the top fighting scenes. The movies main fault is that it feels like it is trying too hard, but it doesn’t completely miss the mark.
    It is not nearly as good as the first one. The first one was a masterpiece. One of Snyder’s best films. This one, however, is just really good. Still worth the watch, and with everything else out at the time ranging from bad to decent, there is no reason not to make this the next movie you watch.

    Reply

    • James Francis

      March 6, 2014 at 10:47

      Fair enough, except that the Athenians were not great warriors is total and utter nonsense. Not only did they invent the Phalanx that the Spartans later employed so well, but they were THE dominant naval power of the era. They also thoroughly whipped the Persians at Marathon without any help. There is a reason why the Persians were fucked up so badly in that naval battle (which didn’t play out at all as the movie suggests) – the Athenians kicked ass in biblical proportions.

      Reply

      • DarthZA

        March 6, 2014 at 11:00

        But you seem to be missing the part where this isn’t a history tale. Judging a movie that makes no claim to be a historical retelling by what we know to be true is, quite simply, a very stupid thing to do. In the movie, the Athenians were not warriors. Regardless of what they were in history, in this story, they are not.

        Reply

        • James Francis

          March 6, 2014 at 11:06

          I get that, but the reason why it continued this narrative is that if 300 was more accurate, there’d have been a thousand Athenians alongside Leonidas. Sadly to continue that sham it tried to oversell the ‘farmers and poets’ thing, then show us how those ‘non-warriors’ absolutely dominate on the sea. This is something the Romans couldn’t even do properly. So, the film sends out mixed signals, mainly because it plays so fast and loose with history that it wrote itself into a corner.

          Reply

          • DarthZA

            March 6, 2014 at 11:39

            SPOILERS!

            The first 2 battles that the Greeks won, they were not fighting against soldiers. They were fighting against slaves. The first battle in the movie against actual soldiers they were getting slaughtered in. The Greeks were losing that battle by a large margin. And the only reason the Greeks were dominating on the sea was because they used tactics that put them on top straight away thanks to their leader, not thanks to some non-existent great warrior skill these guys were hiding. I didn’t see any ‘non-warriors’ dominate like you’re stating they are.

          • James Francis

            March 6, 2014 at 11:49

            Apart from their incredible ability to sustain charges in sea, manoeuvre those ships on a dime, their equalled ability to board enemy ships and that they could easily navigate through the final Persian navy and get fantastically close to the commander.

            I don’t know how much you know about naval warfare, but all of those things are pretty much impossible if you do not have a trained and hardened navy. As I said, in much of the ancient world navies dominated because it was not easy to be a good navy. The Romans and Kublai Khan learned this the hard way.

            No, it’s lazy writing. They lifted historical moments, added their own themes and when the two turn out to be wholly incompatible, just slapped on a bunch of nonsense to create an underdog. Go look at Gladiator for an example of how to mangle history and still do it well.

          • DarthZA

            March 6, 2014 at 11:55

            Well, the movie had the Greek ships captained by army men. Men who had been in the army their whole life. There was even a scene in the movie where they clearly laid that out. They wanted to fight at sea because they believed they were skilled enough at naval combat to make a stand, the Persians just had numbers. In the end battle, the Persian commander headed the charge. Her ship was on the front line, literally the front ship until just before they clashed with the Greeks. As they neared the Greek ships, then the ships next to her’s sailed in front of her ship, so she was only 2 ships away. They even pulled the camera right back to show how the Greeks had committed their entire fleet into getting onto the Commander’s ship, so much so that Xerxes just saw a tiny arrow like fleet of ships penetrating the middle of his large naval fleet, so it is no surprise they were able to get onto her ship when she was right at the front lines. Do yourself a favour and go and watch historical movies if you want history, but this movie set out the setting it wanted to, and by all accounts, obeyed the rules of the universe it had set.

          • James Francis

            March 6, 2014 at 12:05

            I don’t know why you keep thinking I wanted an historical epic. I’ve said more than once that aspect didn’t bother me – it’s the lazy writing that did.

          • DarthZA

            March 6, 2014 at 12:14

            But they didn’t fight like incredible warriors. This is the part I don’t understand. They had major losses, and their lack of skill was immediately apparent when they were fighting against warriors. Yes, the few soldiers that the Greeks had did well, but the rest didn’t, not at all. They boarded ships because the naval warriors who had done nothing but training their entire lives had captained the ships into position for them to jump on.

          • James Francis

            March 6, 2014 at 12:27

            It must have been hard farming and writing poems when they trained all their lives… Really, if you cannot see this contradiction (or that ‘unskilled warriors’ were tearing through Persians like they were Zatoichi), then there is nothing left to discuss.

          • DarthZA

            March 6, 2014 at 12:37

            You’re getting the soldiers and the non-soldiers mixed up. Did you not watch the movie? There was a clear distinction between the Greeks that were soldiers and the Greeks that were not. You’re rolling them into one. The guys that were soldiers had no farms and wrote no poems. I think you need to watch the movie again, and this time actually watch the movie.

  7. Kershin Padayachee

    March 10, 2014 at 09:35

    This movie was a worthless piece of crap

    Reply

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