If you enjoyed the 2007 film “300” but felt it would’ve been even better with more slow-motion beheading, limb removals and blood splatters — good news.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is here, delivering more stylish action sequences and production design along with buckets and buckets of fake blood.
The original “300” was based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller. This follow-up is also based on a graphic novel by Miller, but one that has yet to be published. It may sound odd to have a movie come out before the source material it’s based on — unless you’re familiar with Frank Miller.
Still, it’s not hard to make the movie without the book since it’s all loosely based on the historical record. The first film was a stylized retelling of the ancient Battle of Thermopylae, in which King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) led 300 brave Spartan warriors into battle against a much larger force of Persians led by the King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).
“Rise of an Empire” is both prequel and sequel, with the action taking place before, during and after the events of the earlier film. There are a trio of origin stories going on here, beginning with the feud between Persia and Greece circa 400 BC.
When Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) of Athens slays the Persian king in battle, the slain king’s son vows revenge. With the prodding of his trusted aide Artemisia (Eva Green), along with some powerful black magic, the boy emerges as the golden-skinned, giant “god-king” Xerxes.
Artemisia has her own tragic back story, which has left her with an overpowering hatred of the Greeks. By the time Xerxes is ready to return to Greece and round two, Artemisia has become commander of his naval forces. While Xerxes and Leonidas confront each other on land, Artemisia and Themistocles wage war on the choppy seas.
Director Noam Murro closely follows the playbook of previous director Zack Snyder, at least in terms of the film’s look. The set designs, ships, and carnage is all very bold and stylized. Taking most of the battle to the water makes for a different setting than the original and allows for some new effects. If nothing else, these movies are fun to watch purely on a visual level.
Story-wise, while “Rise of an Empire” may have a more epic approach it isn’t a better one. “300” was a more personal story, where despite all the violence you felt you got to know and care about the Spartans. Stapleton doesn’t sell me on Themistocles’ story the way Butler did with Leonidas.
And Stapleton is completely shown up by Green, who steals the show from both the male leads. She’s deliciously evil, although almost to the point of being too cartoony. Her character’s initial encounter with Themistocles is, well, ridiculous.
“Rise of an Empire” is the kind of sequel that believes that more is better and more is all you need. That’s usually not the case and it isn’t here either. It’s a crazy, fun spectacle but it lacks the heart of its predecessor.