300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE
*** (out of 5)
March 7, 2014
Sullivan Stapleton as THEMISTOKLES
Eva Green as ARTEMISIA
Lena Headey as QUEEN GORGO
Hans Matheson as AESYKLOS
Callan Mulvey as SCYLLIAS
David Wenham as DILIOS
Rodrigo Santoro as XERXES
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Noam Murro
BY KEVIN CARR
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Like many people, I had to laugh at the concept of a sequel to “300.” After all, pretty much everybody dies at the end of that movie.
Still, that doesn’t stop the entertainment machine. However, unlike many sequels that are sometimes forced into existence, the “300” sequel actually has its roots in Frank Miller’s graphic novel “Xerxes.” I haven’t read that particularly book (nor have I read his original “300” graphic novel), but the fact that it wasn’t just slapped together by the latest Damon Lindelof wannabe screenwriter gave me some hope.
With a new name that directly calls on the original film and not the God king, “300: Rise of an Empire” serves as both a prequel and a sequel to “300.” The story jumps around quite a bit, but the overall push involves Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) trying to hold back Xerxes’ invading navy, led by the insane and villainous Artemisia (Eva Green).
Where “300” was very straightforward in its narrative, “300: Rise of an Empire” is more sweeping. It wraps up the at-home reaction in Sparta to the death of the brave 300. It also gives the brutal and uncomfortable origin of Artemisia herself. In a similar fashion, it offers an otherworldly and over-the-top origin to Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) from the son of a warrior to a supernatural God-king.
A full seven years has passed since the release of “300,” which revolutionized many things in Hollywood. “300” was instrumental in validating the idea of a virtual set, which was first put into place with Frank Miller’s other graphic novel turned movie, “Sin City.” “300” also pioneered speed-ramping in bloody action flicks, something that has been imitated and copied to a fault by many other films, particularly the wash of sword-and-sandal movies we’ve seen so far in 2014.
Taking into account that the filmmaking techniques employed in “300” are now full cliches, I can forgive a lot of their uses in this sequel. After all, it’s not necessary for “The Legend of Hercules” and “Pompeii” to use ramping speeds and virtual sets. I would be disappointed if “300: Rise of an Empire” didn’t.
While not as good or cohesive as the original “300,” there’s still plenty of cool things happening in the film. It’s a highly stylized movie, but as previously stated, that was to be expected with this movie. Anything more subdued would seem like it didn’t come from the same world as the first movie.
It is this stylized action that necessitates seeing the film. The battle sequences, while far too heavy on the goopy Smuckers jelly CGI blood, are still a thrill to witness. More over, by placing much of the action in the midst of a naval battle, the film offers a new location so these sequences don’t seem like rehashes of the first film.
The weak link in the movie is Sullivan Stapleton as the poster hero for the film. He’s a good looking guy, and he has a certain presence, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Gerard Butler’s portrayal of Leonidas in the original “300.”
Fortunately, Stapleton is balanced by one of the better on-screen villains you’ll see this year in cinemas. Eva Green dives into the role of Artemisia, playing insane and bloodthirsty. She offers a brave performance by fully committing, making her a lot of fun to watch on-screen. And the boobs don’t hurt, either.
When all is said and done, “300: Rise of the Empire” doesn’t top the original or even equal it, but it’s still an enjoyable film to watch and a spectacle to behold in the big screen 3D experience.