300: Rise of an Empire Review

The Plot:

A brave general Themistokles leads a band of inexperienced Greek warriors against the vast armies of the invading Persian Empire led by the depraved god-king Xerxes and Artemisia, the vengeful female commander of the feared Persian navy. Once again the defendant stand of a small band of warriors helps inspire the emerging Greek nation to stand up against a daunting tide of evil.  

The Good:

Those who perhaps found the original 2006 film 300 too horrifically violent may find the sequel’s commercially motivated move towards more teen friendly cartoonish action a welcome shift. Despite the near constant tide of death and graphic dismemberment, the film shouldn’t bother even squeamish audiences too much. The gushing spurts of CGI blood are so big and obviously fake that they ironically serve to conceal anything genuinely gory or unpleasant. The violence looks and feels more like a video game than the real horrors of ancient war. The film is too preoccupied with looking stylish to ever be genuinely terrifying or emotionally tense.

Eva Green is a captivating redeeming feature; almost single handily keeping this film watchable, despite some of its more obvious failings. Armed with a naturally piercing gaze and a dangerously sly smirk she is a seductively menacing presence. It’s rare and almost unique to find a villainess so genuinely ruthless and imposing on screen. The film even does her character the justice of giving her a credible backstory. In truth the film would almost have been better off focusing exclusively on her character’s story in its own right.

Such is the strength of Eva Green’s screen presence that not even gratuitous nudity or outlandish CGI blood splatters can obscure the quality of her performance. Of course a teenage target audience will almost certainly welcome Eva Green nudity even more than the endless slow motion fight sequences.

The Bad:

Leading man Sullivan Stapleton lacks the brutal macho charisma of Gerard Butler’s iconic portrayal of brave but doomed Sparta King Leonidas. Likewise the film’s supporting cast of Greek warriors feel at times like the poor muscle deprived cousins of the original film’s Spartan heroes. The 2006 original boasted a convincingly rugged cast that included Dominic West and Michael Fassbender. Skins star Jack O’Connell for example is a far less convincing shirtless soldier and sadly feels like a poor man’s substitute for more familiar faces.

The main problem for 300 Rise of an Empire is that it confusingly positions itself as a companion piece to the 2006 film, rather than just a straightforward sequel. The muddled timeline sees the story mostly unfold alongside the plot of the original film and frequently jump to older events to explain its elaborate backstory.

300 was a box office phenomenon which understandably left the studio and perhaps fans eager for more. But as a story it couldn’t have been more self-contained. Few endings are ever more definitive than everyone dying. Rise of an Empire struggles to reimagine the original plot and heavy handily add new characters with fresh excuses for slow motion fighting. Anyone unfamiliar with the first film will be a little bemused by the constant contrived references to what the never seen Leonidas and his 300 men are actually up to. Even the characters that do return, like Lena Headey’s Spartan Queen Gorgo and evil Persian warlord Xerxes, have little screen time or impact.

The Ugly Truth:

300: Rise of An Empire recreates the stylized look of Zack Snyder’s 2006 effort but fails to quite capture its angry macho magic. A superb villainous display from Eva Green rescues the film from being lost at sea. As a sequel the film essentially repeats the successful formula and plot of the original whilst making little changes beyond moving the action sequences onto the sea for a series of similar navel battles.

Overall devoted fans of the original will be pleased to see an unlikely sequel finally come to life, but it won’t win over those who don’t appreciate Zack Snyder’s trademark comicbook visuals.

Official Trailer below:

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