“300: Rise of an Empire” – Review by Matt Marshall

"300: Rise of an Empire" (2014) - Movie Review (We Live Film)

Much More Blood to Spill in Rise of an Empire

by Matt Marshall

2007’s smash hit 300 worked perfectly fine on its own. Slicing and dicing through wave upon wave of Persian forces, there was no mistake that it succeeded in reinventing the Spartans’ last stand at Thermopylae. 

History buffs are well aware that Thermopylae didn’t tie up all the loose ends between the warring Greeks and Persians. So what does that mean to Hollywood? A sequel, of course.

To make matters a tad intriguing, 300: Rise of an Empire is not entirely a follow-up to 300. It may sound confusing, but segments of Rise of an Empire take place before, during and after the events of the 2007 film. While King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 Spartans battle their way through non-stop Persians, just down the road, Athenian Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is engaged in his own naval conflict.

Australian Stapleton falls short as an adequate substitute for Butler’s Leonidas. Less memorable and less intimidating, Stapleton’s ultimately a softer iteration of a warrior. Screenwriters Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad seem determined to shackle Themistocles to a bland caricature, even missing the mark on an obligatory “This is Sparta” meme.

But as we’re forced to wade through countless one-dimensional killing machines, there is, however, Artemisia played by a deliciously evil Eva Green. Green’s over-the-top performance as the ruthless Persian commander is worth the price of admission alone. Now, Snyder and Johnstad could have easily left this highly fictionalized Artemisia as a paper-thin villain. But the shocking emphasis of characterization is actually beneficial in a film that has next to none.

Adding Artemisia into the mix of things changes the perspective of 300. 300 establishes that main baddie is bling king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), whereas Rise of an Empire transforms him into a childish puppet. Props to Green for excelling as the puppet master behind the throne. However, the reveal of Xerxes’ origins strips him of his mysterious aura from the first film. Ironically enough, Rise of an Empire is based on Frank Miller’s unreleased graphic novel, Xerxes. The film version of Xerxes is little more than a side character to tie the two films together.

Santoro’s Xerxes isn’t the only callback in Rise of an Empire. Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) returns as Queen Gorgo, conflicted to continue the war after the death of her husband Leonidas. David Wenham and Andrew Tiernan bridge the gap as well as one-eyed Spartan Delios and hunchback traitor Ephialtes. But these cameo appearances don’t make or break the success of Rise of an Empire.

What keeps this new installment afloat is director Noam Murro’s ability to stay in the same vein of Zack Snyder’s 300. Having Snyder on board as screenwriter and producer certainly helped kept the vision clear. The action is as outrageous as ever, transplanting land battles for crashing armadas at sea.

The stylized visuals from the first film remain, still favoring the slow motion techniques that have been attempted in various parodies yet never duplicated. Rise of an Empire comes awfully close, throwing reality and historical accuracy out the window. Then again, who went into 300 for accuracy over watching a film for two hours of pure adrenaline? So far in 2014, it’s been difficult to find a film that reaches this magnitude of popcorn entertainment.

300: Rise of an Empire is unnecessary, gimmicky and about five years too late. Put that aside and this companion piece still manages to get the testosterone pumping for 100 minutes of a bloody fine visual spectacle on the Greek seas.

GRADE: B (4/5)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matt Marshall is a YouTube movie reviewer who hosts MNMreviews. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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