“300: Rise of an Empire”
By Bob Garver
2007’s “300” told the story of a small Spartan army that stood up to an insurmountable Persian army. The rebellion didn’t go very well. The ending set the stage for a sequel where armies from other Greek cities would band together to face the Persians with better odds. “300: Rise of an Empire” is not that sequel. It tells the story of a small Athenian army that stands up to a different version of the insurmountable Persian army around the same time as the Spartan army. The first film was dumb and violent. The new film is also dumb and violent, with the added failure of being unoriginal. One “300” is more than enough.
The Athenian army is led by Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who killed off the leader of a Persian army years before. He’s hailed as a hero, but secretly he’s consumed by guilt for not killing the leader’s son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, the only cast member from the original “300” with a role bigger than a cameo), who has since become much more tyrannical that his father ever was. The Persian army, under the supervision of Xerxes, is led by Artemisia (Eva Green), a lifelong warrior who manipulates Xerxes into becoming a tyrant. And yes, the movie does expect you to keep track of names like “Themistokles” and “Artemisia.” When the most retainable name in your story is “Xerxes,” things might be too complicated.
The film mostly consists of battles, buildup for battles or damage assessment immediately following battles. It’s in these scenes where Green really gnashes her teeth as Artemisia. I refuse to say that there is anything good about this movie, but Green is the closest thing to a good thing. The problem is that she rarely does anything right in these battles, and her formidability suffers because of it. Themistokles, meanwhile, spends a lot of time stuck in a subplot about the son of one of his officers tagging along without permission. It’s a lame storyline, but I guess it’s better than watching him mope around because he let Xerxes live. Xerxes, for his part, is pretty useless as the film is determined drive home the point that Artemisia has him under her thumb. The wimp-ification of this once mighty character is akin to the widely disliked final scenes of Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises.”
Now we come to the part that people pay their money to see: the action sequences. Truthfully, there isn’t much here that wasn’t in the original “300.” There’s swordplay galore, and I guess the film comes up with some new ways to skewer people, but is that really something to be proud of? There’s also a ton of blood in these scenes but it looks like ink, not precious life fluid. The blades don’t even look like they hurt that much. I think it’s because the characters usually fight wearing black so blood doesn’t show up on their clothes. Highlights of the battle scenes are shown in animation over the credits, and they’re actually much easier to watch than the rest of the movie.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is just an unpleasant experience. The plot is confusing, the photography is murky, the battles get boring quickly and Sullivan Stapleton is no match for Gerard Butler as a leading man. Perhaps most insulting is that the film promises that a battle featuring a united Greece is coming, and it turns out that they’re saving it for the next movie. I’m not mad at the idea of not seeing the battle so much as I’m mad that I’ll have to see another one of these movies.
One Star out of Five.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language. Its running time is 102 minutes.
Contact Bob Garver at firstname.lastname@example.org.