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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Last Updated: March 4, 2014