300: Rise of an Empire is both a prequel and a sequel to the 2007 film, 300, one of the most stylized action films ever made. The new movie has the same gritty and dark HD tonal quality of the first movie, as well as the sporadic ultra-slow-motion effects that capture the exaggerated battles and blood-spilling in extreme detail; but it’s missing some of the heart from often copied original.
It took a little while to settle into the grove of this film, there’s a lot of Thermopylae this and Salamis that, and for a while I have to admit I didn’t know what the heck was going on – I’m not an expert on ancient history, be it real or fantasy or mixture of both – but by the second half I started to “get” the story’s drift and was able to just enjoy the game of testosterone as it played out.
The story begins as the Queen of Sparta (Lena Headey, who you might recognize as Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones) is rallying her troops (and/or Spartan sailors) for an attack on the Persian navy; and from there she provides the narrative for the rest of the film; which mostly consists of the Greek General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and his troops/navy going up against the Persian forces of Artemisia (Eva Green) and the King/God, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who was also the evil bad guy in the first film.
We get to see the fighting that led up to the Battle of Thermopylae (which was depicted in the first 300 film), and then the aftermath of that battle as the bravery of the 300 Spartans is used to unite the surrounding kingdoms against the Persians; and then we witness the continuing naval battles against the forces of Xerxes. So in a nutshell, 300: Rise of an Empire covers events before, during, and after the story we saw in 300.
Enough history though, let’s get to what this is really all about, which is macho guys and badass women (well, two of them anyway) fighting each other in ultra-dramatic fashion. The formula for these movies is basically: 1) Posturize with a speech about fighting for freedom; 2) Fight (add gallons of digitized blood); 3) Repeat steps 1 and 2.
As an old school fan of the Age of Empires computer games series, I’m actually okay with 300: Rise of an Empire’s lack of soap opera drama (although it does make a feeble attempt at it.) I kept imagining, ok, this is what was happening at the ground level of that game I used to play for hours on end – and that was kind of cool.
The only character that is developed at all in this film is Artemisia, the Commander of the Persian Navy; and sexy Eva Green (who you might remember as Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale) does an awesome job of bringing this character to life. Even though she’s one of the villains in this film, in the end I was rooting for her character as she was the only one I was given a chance to care about. I’m really looking forward to seeing Green as Ava Lord in the upcoming Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. (We might have a new ‘Queen’ of action films here.)
Most of the battles in this movie take place at sea (digitally, of course) and for the most part they look pretty darn good and realistic. There is an extended sequence of Themistocles riding a horse into battle across several colliding ships that is utterly amazing and worth the price of admission by itself. There are also some SPOILERS in the SPOILERS that were an awesome surprise.
The 3D effects in this film are very good, but, as usual, the dark glasses make the picture so dark and muddy that I can’t recommend paying the extra money to see the movie in that format. I actually would like to see it again in ‘normal’ mode and with proper luminance.
300: Rise of an Empire is helmed by the Israel director, Noam Murro, whose only previous work is the film Smart People (2008), which seems like an odd resume item to land a gig like this; but he does a good enough job to make this a decent experience for genre fans – and this movie is produced and written by the original’s director, Zack Snyder, who I’m sure helped guide Murro’s hand.
This film is based in part on the only unfinished and unpublished comic series, Xerxes, by comic book legend, Frank Miller. It will be interesting to see how closely the books will match the film when/if it is done. It might be a weird case of the comic inspiring the movie and then influencing the outcome of the comic.
I think fans of 300 will be happy with this new edition to the story. Rise of an Empire not as good as the original, and its style is not new and groundbreaking like it was before, but it’s still a fun sword and spatter romp through fantasy history. Grade: 7/10
Photos © 2013 Legendary Pictures