Plot: Intertwining with the events of the original 300, King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) of Persia continues his pursuit of Greece with the aid of his top lieutenant, the power hungry Artemisia (Eva Green). General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) of Athens leads a battalion against her army in an effort to save Greece.
Maybe it’s because I just saw The Legend of Hercules, but 300: Rise of an Empire is…okay. We aren’t reinventing cinema here, but this sequel is what it is. It keeps you engaged, there’s some good performances, and the action is pretty solid all around. Zack Snyder directed the original surprise hit back in 2006, and while he doesn’t return for this one, director Noam Murro does a good job of recreating the tone and feel of 300. So, grab your sandals, weld those ancient swords, and crank up the slow-mo/speed-up machine, it’s time for the long-awaited sequel to the film everybody has forgotten!
First off, I mentioned how this was a sequel to 300, but in actuality, it’s really a prequel, sequel, and side story all going on at once. Yup. Three convoluted continuity issues for the price of one! This was really annoying at first, especially because they constantly reference what’s going with Leonidas, the Gerard Butler character from the original. Thanks for reminding me about a better movie I could be watching at home. Once you get past that though, it moves at a pretty good pace. My only complaint with the pacing is how repetitive it gets. You get a long dialogue exchange, then a battle. Long dialogue scene, battle. Long dialogue scene, battle. You get the idea. What took me completely off guard though were the characters. They were actually pretty decent.
No Gerard Butler this time around, except for in brief flashbacks. Instead we got Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. Stapleton has done a few projects here and there, but nothing major. There isn’t a whole lot to the character, but you buy Stapleton’s performance, and certainly root for guy. The script does a good job of showing the audience why we sympathize with Themistokles, and it wasn’t some cliché reason, it was actually pretty intriguing, and a good connection to Xerxes from the first film. I really appreciated Stapleton’s performance, especially after seeing Kellan “Watching Paint Dry” Lutz as Hercules (shudder). Lena Headey returns as Queen Gorgo, Leonidas’ wife. While not in the film a ton, she definitely makes her presence known in every scene she’s in. I loved Headey in 2012’s Dredd, and would definitely like to see her get more film opportunities. As good as Headey was though, there’s another actress who steals the show.
Eva Green plays the villainess Artemisia, and is absolutely chilling. They give her a pretty cliché back story, but that’s okay. The film makes good use of it. Green just owns the screen, very charismatic, and also very evil. Her relationship with Themistokles was odd at first, but as the film progresses, it definitely becomes more complicated and compelling, which added a lot of weight to the climax. Rodrigo Santoro returns as the other villain, King Xerxes. They add more exposition to his character, but he was pretty forgettable. Other than that, the rest of the supporting characters were complete throwaways.
But enough about the characters, let’s be serious – this is a 300 movie. The action wasn’t anything groundbreaking, just well filmed and very entertaining. You’ll get your money’s worth. My only gripe is the over use of the Mortal Kombat cartoon blood. Seriously, the blood splatters the same exact way an obscene number of times. Enough with that crap. Let’s also talk about the infamous slow-mo/speed-up technique. You know what I’m talking about. This was sort of introduced in 1999 with the Matrix, known then as bullet time. Since then, it was used and parodied ad nauseam. Then 300 came along, and Zack Snyder added a cool new wrinkle to it. It felt fresh again. It wasn’t long though till that style became overused, even by Snyder himself. You see it a lot in this film, but because it played such a big role in creating the feel of the first 300, I was okay with it. But after this film, can we officially retire the slow-mo/speed-up motif? I think we’ve seen it enough. Can Hollywood issue some kind of decree or something?
If you loved the original 300, you’ll be happy to return to this world. While it drags and gets repetitive, I surprisingly cared about the characters, and was fairly entertained. But I have to address the “ending.” I won’t spoil anything, but please indulge me in a mini rant. I’ve brought up in previous reviews how I get annoyed when a movie thinks it’s going to get a sequel, so it sort of leaves on a cliffhanger. I’ve accepted this though, and while annoying, at least the movie still completes a story arc from start to finish. 300: Rise of an Empire takes it to a whole new level though, and blatantly just ends the film in the middle of a scene. No. That’s bull shit. You can’t do that. You have to have some sort of closure. We also saw this last year with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, but that was a little more tolerable as we kind of got an emotional climax. 300: Rise of an Empire just cuts off. Boom, that’s it. If Hollywood is going to get into the habit of “Hey, just cut the movie off. This will be a franchise anyway, so whatevs,” then that’s a very scary notion for the future of films.
Rating: 6.5 out of 10 (Slightly Better than ‘Meh’)