300: Rise of an Empire is a bloody good time


Greeks and Persians do battle on the sea in this bloody side-quel to the hit ‘300,’ but the movie’s secret weapon is Eva Green.


300 was a groundbreaking film in terms of style, action and visuals. It really set the tone for many action movies (and cable TV’s Spartacus) to come with its use of mostly green screen filming and a completely virtual world brought to life on the big screen. Of course, there was all kinds of eye candy for every persuasion (and rumblings that even some of that was digitally enhanced … or just spray painted on), lots of slo-mo action and copious amounts of digital blood that seemed to vanish into thin air.

The story was pretty slim, based on a historical event as told through a graphic novel, featuring the legendary 300 heroes of Sparta as they battled to defend their land from the Persian empire under the leadership of the God King Xerxes. The Spartans, lead by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), never really stood a chance and they fought a valiant battle, but what became of Sparta?

If you’re expecting an answer to that question from 300: Rise of an Empire, you may be disappointed. The new film is not a sequel to 300, but rather a side-quel taking place a bit before, during and a bit after the events of the first film. In the new film, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is aware of a coming Persian invasion and he sets out to gather all the armies of Greece to fend them off, and that includes the Spartans who want nothing to do with the rest of Greece.

Leonidas is already meeting with the Persians, according to his queen Gorgo (the returning Lena Heady), and she pretty much sends Themistokles away with no pledge of assistance. Themistokles and his army prepare for battle with Xerxes but it turns out they’re really fighting his more cunning sister, Artemisia (the excellent Eva Green), who has massive ships at her disposal. She, however, is not prepared for the Greeks to have their own ships or their military expertise, losing many ships and soldiers in the first few days of battle. She wants Themistokles to join her, but he’s having none of it (well, he does get a little, if you know what I mean) and the battle resumes until one or the other triumphs.

The story proper ends at about the same place as the original 300, but it’s not over yet … until it all ends rather abruptly. Is this a cliffhanger? Is there a third film planned that’s actually a proper sequel? Did I fall asleep and miss something? They seem to set you up for more with Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who is barely in the movie (although we do get to see him at the beginning before he becomes a god), and then it just ends in the middle of another battle. Which was a major disappointment.

The film’s real casting coup is Eva Green.

Other than that, I rather enjoyed the film a bit more than the first movie. New director Noam Murro, handling his first big action epic, retains the visual style set in the first film by Zack Snyder (who co-wrote the screenplay and was one of the many producers) and handles the action very well. While Stapleton is an adequate surrogate for the absent Butler (who we do see in “flashbacks” or sideways glances, as it were), the film’s real casting coup is Eva Green. Green’s Artemisia is deceptively wicked, twisting her father’s dying words into a challenge for her brother to go and become a god while she takes control of the Persian navy, using all of her cunning skills to avenge her own tragic childhood (she’s Greek by birth, but raised Persian) and keep her men in line. You do not want to be on her bad side. Green totally makes the movie even more watchable than it should be.

For all the blood spilled,no one ever seems to get bloodied in battle … not even the ground!

My biggest quibble, besides the abrupt ending, is the blood. There are heads and limbs being sliced off left and right with gallons of blood spurting like fountains and burst balloons, yet no one ever seems to get bloodied in battle … not even the ground! That bugged me about the first movie, and I found it distracting here again. You may see a puddle here and there, but honestly, there should be rivers of blood on the ground for the amount that is spilled in battle. Other than that, I found 300: Rise of an Empire to have a decent story with some great action (and some beautiful 3D) and a truly standout performance by Eva Green. And even if you haven’t seen the first movie, you should be able to follow this one since it’s taking place concurrently. I’d really love to see someone edit together a massive epic with both movies someday, but for now this one will suffice rather nicely. Except we still don’t really know what happens to Sparta or the rest of Greece by the end of the movie. Time to hit the history books (or Wikipedia).

*It should be noted that 300: Rise of an Empire is also based on the Frank Miller graphic novel Xerxes, which is a sequel to his 300 graphic novel … and which at the time of this film’s release is still apparently unfinished.


Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

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