Bigger; noisier; bloodier; more brutal and more aggressive – absolutely. 300: Rise of an Empire is a visceral assault on the senses that ups the franchise ante in every conceivable way. But is it a better film than its predecessor? Adrenaline junkies will surely shout “tonight we dine in HELL!” And if viewed sheerly as mindless entertainment (call it Big Dumb Hyper-stylized Historical Fun) they might be right. Unfortunately, Rise of an Empire lacks some of the poetry, power, pacing and visual prowess of similar genre films, revelling instead in blunt force trauma that occasionally borders on self-parody.
Greek General Themistokles leads the Athenian navy to fend off the invading Persians, led by God-king Xerxes.
300: Rise of an Empire is easy to label as imitation. Snyder didn’t direct the second film but much of the first instalment’s striking visuals are present and this makes the film easy to digest for fans of the first. However, die-hard fans will notice the roughness around the edges and how much of this film’s narrative is much of a muchness without actually getting anywhere.
The Bottom Line
As King Leonidas (a briefly glimpsed but absent Gerard Butler) defies the leaders of Sparta and wages war with invading God-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the politicians of Athens choose a different course of action, sending a large fleet of ships to engage the still-overwhelming forces of the Persian navy. Athens entrusts its fleet to its greatest warrior, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who years earlier killed Xerxes’ father, King Darius I. Xerxes, in turn, tasks his finest commander and sole confidant, the manipulative and vengeful Artemisia (Eva Green), with destroying the Athenian navy. Like Leonidas, Themistokles must rely on skill and strategy to combat the enormous size and strength of his enemy. Unlike Leonidas, though, martyrdom will not forge a road to victory. It will take all he has to defeat Artemisia, all he is to overcome such insurmountable odds, and eventually all he can muster to convince Sparta and grieving widow Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) to aid Athens in their most dire hour of need.
To compensate for this innate lack of novelty, 300: Rise Of An Empire—which Snyder wrote and produced, but didn’t direct—does what sequels have historically done, doling out more of the same in even greater doses. Rise Of An Empire tries to amp up levels of excess and spectacle that already bordered on the comically over-the-top. The results are still striking, just not quite so hypnotic or impressive as in the first film. Green-screening is much more obvious; FX seams more apparent; armies more akin to animated action figures and sword fights and battle scenes less impactful and convincing. Add to that the shakier grasp on slow motion, the relative weakness in comic-panel framing, and some trouble encountered when staging climactic action beats and you have a film that looks the part by and large but doesn’t feel quite right. By the time Themistokles mounts a horse hidden in the belly of his boat and begins galloping from one sinking Persian ship to the next, swinging his sword and thrusting devastating kicks at dazed onlookers, any sense of artful grace has drained away. His subsequent clash and standoff with Artemisia is even sillier, failing to earn the payoff it so eagerly expects to collect.