Strong battles and a killer performance by Eva Greet give the sequel some weight
When 300 released back in 2007, it was a comic book spectacle that showed just what Zack Snyder could do – besides Dawn of the Dead reboots, that is. He has since gone on to some prominent adaptations of Watchmen and Man of Steel, as well as the lacking but decent original attempt Sucker Punch. Still, many believe 300 is his strongest work, mainly because he didn't stray far from comic writer Frank Miller's bloody vision.
The same could easily be said for 300: Rise of an Empire. This "side story" to the main film follows a tough warrior named Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he tries to lead an army against Xerxes' forces on the seas, while the Spartans battle them on the land. Yep, the pain-in-the-neck Persian king returns to wrongfully take what isn't his – Athens and surrounding lands of Greece – and has a killer captain in Artemesia (Eva Green) at his side.
Like the first film, this is all about flashy action. Director Noam Murro takes over where Snyder left off, with plenty of slow-motion effects, a lot of CG-animated blood, and the kind of drama you'd come to expect from spectacles such as this. For those expecting something outside the scope of the original film, you're likely to be disappointed. Everyone else, however, should have a bloody good time with it.
The battle scenes are swift and fun to watch. Having boats ram into each other is a sight to see – especially in 3D – and the epic battle that takes place in the center of the film, where everything is laid to waste in oil and fire, is simply spectacular. Warner Bros. has done quite well with the movie's 3D conversion, although those who see it on a 2D screen certainly won't be disappointed.
The story, however, wanders a bit. There are times when it's questionable why – or how – certain characters survive, and how it takes so long for other ones to die, when they'd rather dwell and try to spread out some sort of message. In addition, some characters die a little too quickly. For instance, anyone who counters either Themistokles or Artemisia dies almost immediately, except for bigger enemies. Maybe that's the point, but still, they can't be this invincible, right?
Where 300: Rise of an Empire really lacks is within its characters. Stapleton does what he can with the lead role, but he's no Gerard Butler, and it shows during some of the battle segments. He lacks the thunder in his voice that the original hero's so boldly carried. In addition, while Xerxes' story is fleshed out a little bit, he does really nothing more than show off his arrogance. Again, maybe that was the point.
Regardless, this opens up a great little side fact about Rise of an Empire – despite all the beefcake on display, this is totally a woman's show, and it's crazy good. Lena Headey returns as Gorgo, the widow of Butler's character, who's angry over the loss of her husband but afraid to lose what's left of her Spartans – or is she? Meanwhile, Green is a show-stopper as Artemisia, proving a very capable villain in every step of the film, from kissing a beheaded warrior to negotiating with Themistokles in the most unique – not to mention forceful – manner. She's come a long way over the years, and I look forward to seeing her in more roles.
While Rise of an Empire can't top the majesty of the first film, it does the next best thing, continuing it onward in a very effective and enjoyable manner. It's not one of the great sequels, but it's certainly a good one, and these days, that's certainly better than the mediocre muck we've gotten. If you're up for a flashy, entertaining action spectacle, this is one Rise you won't want to miss. Particularly in 3D.
Score: 8 / 10