re:View – 300: Rise of an Empire

Written by Michael Bonner.

As the might of the Persian Empire marches towards Greece, the famous Athenian Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) gathers together a handful of warriors and heads off into the Aegean Sea to fend off the Persian invasion and to unite Greece.

 


Image: Warner Bros

So, Ancient Greece. A handful of half-naked warriors. An impossibly large Persian army. Utterly insurmountable odds. Yes, 300: Rise of an Empire sounds pretty familiar doesn’t it, and you would be forgiven for mistaking Zach Synder’s latest bloodthirsty blockbuster for, well, his original bloodthirsty blockbuster, 300.

However, this time around, instead of 300 Spartans holding fast against the might of the Persian Army, we see a rag tag bunch of Athenian warriors holding fast against the might of the Persian Navy! Startling difference indeed.

So unfortunately those of you lured in by the misleading title, expecting to see more cool Spartan phalanxes, more Gerard Butler and lots more ‘ah ooh!’-ing will be sorely disappointed. Instead of a follow up or even a prequel, Rise of an Empire is more of a side-sequel to the events of King Leonidas’s last stand, set before, during and after the 300’s fall.

However, before you click that little close tab button don’t worry this new instalment packs all the punches that its older sibling did, and then some. Right from the first battle sequence, which sees Stapleton deal out his fair share of deadly super slow motion ninja moves, it is clear that Rise of an Empire is going to be much bloodier and much louder than its predecessor.

Director Noam Murro is armed not only with Synder’s script but also with his array of eye boggling special effects; from fight scenes that seem choreographed by lightening, to horses that trample enemy after enemy aboard flaming ships, all the way to giant underwater sea creatures, Rise of an Empire is well and truly in the land of 300’s hyper-stylized and super-sexualized universe.

But despite all the cool effects and the extremely interesting source material the film lacks the same personality that we came to love from the first 300. Stapleton’s Themistokles is definitely cool but fails to match the charm of Butler’s Leonidas; his right-hand man Scyllias, played by Callan Mulvey, is also likeable, but you can’t help but compare him to Leonidas’s right-hand man Dilios (David Wenham) and find his character wanting. Rodrigo Santoro’s Xerxes too, despite us being given more of an insight into just how he became the God-King, seems to lack the same ominous presence he had in the first film. Yet this being said, it is not really the men who are the focus of the film, but rather the women, and one woman in particular. Eva Green’s psychotic, yet sexy Artemisia steals the show as not only as the villain, but as a character in general. She is mad, unstable, bloodthirsty and has an interesting backstory to boot; ultimately she is a much more interesting character than all of the others put together. She provides a much-needed source of depth in an otherwise shallow film.

Overall Rise of an Empire maybe very visually enjoyable, but it is ultimately unnecessary. With exposition-aplenty, courtesy of Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo, the film perpetually feels as if it is building up to something cataclysmic, but once it has run its full 100-minute course all it seems to have achieved is simply retelling the same story 300 did back in 2006, just substitute Spartans for Athenians and the Hot Gates for the Aegean.

But for all its shortcomings Rise of an Empire is still enjoyable. If you keep your expectations slightly below average and see it in 3D you’ll have a great time. But don’t expect to fall in love with it like you did with the first one.

Falling just above average 300: Rise of an Empire deserves an okay 6 out of 10.

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