(Scored out of ten; below 5 = not worth seeing, 6 = ok, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = fantastic, 10 = next to perfect)
300: Rise of an Empire is a brutal, non-stop, action packed romp through a war torn Greece; it is also incredible. For all those looking for depth and storytelling, this is not the flick for you. But if you’re looking for crazy fight scenes and fantastic visuals than look no further. With a little over reliance on the slo-mo and playing off of gimmicks from the first film RoaE is not quite up to par with the original but remains a valiant second outing for the 300 franchise and definitely worth the price of admission (even in 3D).
Directed by Noam Murro, Rise of an Empire acts as both a side story, prequel and sequel to the first film. Persia, led by God King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his trusty lieutenant Artemisia (the stunning Eva Green), is tearing through all of Greece in a show of power and revenge. The majority of the movie takes place before and during the events of the first with the final battle occurring after the death of Leonidas (not a spoiler, you should have seen the first one by now). RoaE opens with a gripping and intense fight scene on the Grecian shores, the brutality and detail in the choreography is truly a marvel. The only drawback of this sequence, as well as a few others throughout the film, was the narration by Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo. She delivered the lines well but the constant talking during the middle of a battle sucked me out of what was otherwise a fun experience.
Also of note is the lack of gravity from the lead. Gerard Butler as Leonidas was full of impactful one-liners and we could get behind him as the leader of the Spartan army. Sullivan Stapleton is no Leonidas. His character, Themistocles, is thrust into leadership position with the Greek army and is tasked with taking down the Persian hordes at their doorstep. Stapleton failed to deliver that same kind of emphasis in the lines he was given and instead created a character that could have just as easily been one of the random soldiers. While not a bad thing in the context of the film it was a bit disappointing after having such a powerful lead in the first. Aside form his lack of gravitas he pulls off the insane action and some of the more somber moments quite well.
If you need one reason to watch this film, Eva Green is it. She is fantastic as the revenge driven, tortured soul that is Artemisia. Her backstory is grim yet it does a fantastic job in making audiences sympathize with her plight. Perhaps she takes things a bit far but I understood where she was coming from emotionally. Eva manages to imbue her character with the perfect amount of menace, seduction and power Artemisia calls for, plus she is one heck of a looker! Her disdain with her subordinates grows steadily over time and Green does a phenomenal job showing her ever-diminishing patience. At the same time she shows an increasing infatuation with Themistocles. As he continues to triumph in battle there is a not so subtle sense of admiration and infatuation coming from Green, it is a nice touch that adds more layers to an already complex villain. One fight scene (if you can call it that) in particular shows this dynamic off quite well. The scene in question was a bit shocking at first but did a good job changing up the typical battle formula seen in most sword and sandal flicks.
The supporting cast also did a great job in making the world of 300 a real one. Callan Mulvey and Jack O’Connell play a father son duo reminiscent of the duo from the first film. I won’t spoil the fate of these characters but suffice it to say that the outcome is satisfying and in my opinion handled better than in the first film yet it lacked the same emotional impact. We get to know these characters and feel for their ordeals throughout the running time but the reactions of these characters were not as raw as the performances given the first time around. Rodrigo Santoro also offers in an excellent turn as Xerxes once again. With more to play with here Santoro gets to flex his acting muscles a little bit for the better. Xerxes comes off as quite intimidating but is eventually shown to be a big child hell-bent on proving himself. While not a major thread of the movie his arc is an interesting one.
Moving away from the actors, the look and feel of the world was fantastic. Had they made everything a bit more colourful like the first it would have been all the better for it. This film is steeped in darkness and despair, it is constantly raining and things are always blowing up. Which is not a bad thing in this case. The action sequences capture your attention and hold on for the entire duration of the movie. A number of the major action beats take place in the middle of a raging ocean on ships. This leads to a ton of interesting fight choreography and truly magnificent visuals. It’s worth mentioning here that the 3D did not take away from my experience at all. I still got a ton of detail and could easily read all the action on screen. Some of the CG was spotty at times (some parts of the final fight scene looked like a video game) and there were a couple of questionable lighting choices (lens flare tended to take over the screen during a few conversations) but these moments were few and far between. The end package is a delicious visual feast that is worth seeing more than once if you’re a fan of the first flick or an action fan in general.
With a cast full of solid to excellent performances (Eva Green!) a smorgasbord of drool worthy action sequences and a decent story to flesh out the world of 300, Rise of an Empire is a more than worthy successor to the Zack Snyder original. With some obvious callbacks to the first film (this is Sparta) and enough to differentiate it from its predecessor this film is good for 300 veterans or new fans alike. It does like some of the emotional punch and weight of the first film but that is the price to pay for such brutal and over the top action. 300:Rise of an Empire is definitely worth the price of admission, 3D or otherwise.
I give this film 8.5/10