300: Rise of an Empire
Directed by: Noam Murro
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, and David Wenham
Release Date: 3/7/2014
The Plot: At the exact moment King Leonidas sets up station at the Hot Gates to fend off the bloodthirsty Persian hordes, an Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan) puts up a naval blockade off the Grecian coast to thwart the Persian navy and their evil leader - and mistress of the high seas - Artemisia. (Green)
The Film: We live in dark days film aficionados. For better or worse Zack Snyder's original 300 ushered in the era of the Digital Sandal Epic. Thanks to 300's success with the audience we now have a crop of sword and sandal movies shot entirely in warehouses. Renny Harlin's The Legend of Hercules, and Tarsem Singh's Immortals are the terrible byproduct of Snyder's original Spartan movie. This weekend we have the release of the true heir to the digital throne - Rise of an Empire is a full-fledged sequel (more of an addition really) to 300. Though much, much better than the two previously mentioned movies, Rise of an Empire never quite matches it's predecessor's passion and execution.
300: Rise of an Empire is supposedly based on Frank Miller's own follow-up to 300, entitled Xerxes. We don't really know for sure because Xerxes hasn't been finished, or released in print yet to the public, so the comic book collecting set won't really get to appreciate the magic of seeing their favorite comic book panels come to life on the big screen as they did in Snyder's 300 and Watchmen, or Rodriguez's Sin City. (another Frank Miller adaptation) If Rise of an Empire is indeed another graphic novel adaptation, I'd argue that it's much more graphic than it is novel. And I do mean graphic.
The world of cinema hasn't seen this much synthetic gore since An Inconvenient Truth.
As far as the plot is concerned, Rise of an Empire is almost a perfect clone of it's bloody forbearer, (there's an exact duplicate of the father/son tragedy from the first film as one example) with a few minor tweaks. The color palette is much cooler for this outing. The vivid contrast of Snyder's movie has been toned down to a deep blue for Rise of an Empire. Which is fitting. The film is set on an Athenian naval blockade with it's back up against the rugged Grecian coastline. Think of the Hot Gates but with the threat of drowning and sea monsters. Where it isn't a clone is on the casting side.
Unfortunately, most of these new Greeks come off as third string English football hooligans.
Though Sullivan Stapleton is a passable lead to anchor a film to, through no fault of his own the shoes - or in this case, bronzed battle greaves - are too big to fill for a 300 sequel. Gerard Butler's terminal temper has been replaced by Stapleton's ruggedly handsome tactician. While Leonidas was chomping at the bit waiting for his turn to crush the devil's testicles in his bare hands, Themistokles wants to live to see a free Greece, and maybe get a little freaky with the new film's villainess, Artemisia.
Eva Green is one of the few highlights of Rise of an Empire. We can accuse Zack Snyder's first film of a few things, but we should never doubt its conviction. 300 wasn't subtle about its sex and violence, and neither is Artemisia - who uses both to twisted effect. There's a sex scene between hero and villain in this film that at first comes off as wildly impractical, (on my end I kept thinking - dude, we just saw this chick make out with a severed head, don't put your tongue in there...) until you realize upon reflection that this was one of the few moments in the movie that had any real spark to it.
The original 300 had heart, and as a consequence, a thundering pulse. Rise of an Empire's only drive seems to be as a decent facsimile of the original film - with a few bucks kept in-pocket by not hiring recognizable acting staff. In Rise of an Empire's defense I would like to point out that neither Gerard Butler or Michael Fassbender were much of anybody back in 2006 when they were cast in 300, and it's too early to know Stapleton's fate in Hollywood as of yet.
Noam Murro recreates some of the visual artifice that made 300 so much fun to watch. Once again the camera speed has bipolar disorder - speeding up and slowing down, giving the projectile bloodletting an almost classical rhythm. In that it succeeds as an addition to the franchise.
If all you took away from the original 300 was that it was an extremely violent war movie that looked good - Rise of an Empire is just that very thing, but with a much more delicious villain to chew on. I would like to point out that 300 also had great, quotable movie lines, spoken by a true believer. Rise of an Empire on the other hand, has far too many speeches, and most of those comes off as lip service.
And if those lips happen to belong to Eva Green...? My suggestion is avoid them at all cost. Trust me, you don't know where they've been.
The Verdict: Taken from a strictly therapeutic angle 300: Rise of an Empire can be cathartic for anyone fed up with American diet and fitness fetishism. Watching perfectly sculpted male supermodels hack each other into hamburger is strangely satisfying as you choke down 9,000 calories of theater popcorn and soda. Otherwise Rise of an Empire is pretty much SSDCC. Same sh*t. Different colored cloaks.