In case the storyline for the Gerard Butler hit, “300”, was too complicated for you, Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures have decided to serve up a prequel/sequel to inform you on the rise of Xerxes the god-king (Rodrigo Santoro) and the events following the original “300” film.
While the first film focused completely on the Spartan life led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his people, this film shows us the actions of the rest of Greece, as well as the Persians, during the same war. Reprising their roles albeit briefly are Lena Headey and David Wenham as Queen Gorgo and Dilios respectively. While it’s nice to see them again, more than five minutes of screen time would have been nice. The new protagonist for the franchise is found in Sullivan Stapleton who plays the Athenian general Themistokles. Though the fault lies mostly with the script, Stapleton doesn’t even begin to compare with Butler’s breakout role.
What made the first film so interesting is that the audience was immersed into the Spartan culture and its people. Though a cartoonish representation, the Spartans were immaculately disciplined warriors who could destroy their enemies at will. The story played out like a giant campfire story full of bravado, inspirational speeches and manly humor.
This next installment, however, fails at delivering on those things. It plays as more of a comic book history lesson (fair to point out that this is an adaptation of a graphic novel). Instead of Spartan culture and all the interesting things that went with it, the audience is left with a fairly average war movie with forgettable characters. The lone character worth remembering is Artemisia (Eva Green) who, like much of the film’s history, is wildly altered for effect. Green plays the Persian leader with a cold disdain for the Greeks as deliciously evil as one could pull off the character. Without her as a worthy adversary, the film would be totally lost.
“300: Rise of an Empire” may be missing the Spartan heart that made the first film a hit, but there is no shortage of action in this outing. Many of the battles take place at sea, cutting down some of the swordplay, but overall there’s plenty to be excited about. One thing that does distract from the action is the insane amount of CGI blood that each strike produces. While the original was no stranger to blood, this film seems to have been influenced by Wednesday and Pugsley Addams. Another scene that goes a bit too far involves Themistokles and Artemisia in a secret rendezvous. The idea of the scene could certainly work but the execution comes off as overly silly, even for this franchise.
The good news on the “overly silly” front is that this film features almost no weird creatures, deformed men, naked oracles and/or their creepy handlers. One of the biggest distractions of the 2007 film was the number of scenes where my skin was made to crawl by some weirdo with scales. The closest thing you’ll have to endure in this film is the return of the hunchback (Andrew Tiernan) who betrayed Leonidas in the original.
While it isn’t the misfire that it easily could have been, “300: Rise of an Empire” fails to live up to the hype of its predecessor. A few good action scenes here and there and a fun role for Eva Green fans to enjoy make the film almost worth the effort.