By Jacoby Bancroft
Sequels and prequels are difficult to pull off because they have to not only keep in mind what made the original so successful, but also provide fresh material to offer something new to the audience.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is a mixture of both, taking place before, after and even during the events of the first film. It comes seven years after director Zach Snyder introduced the world to his ultra-stylish “300,” and while its sequel delivers on the action, it lacks the creativity and memorability of the original. While new director Noam Murro manages to match Snyder’s visual aesthetics, his desire to create an action-packed blockbuster leaves the movie without depth or substance.
The first film told the story of how 300 hardened Spartan warriors engaged a colossal Persian army with fatal results. It was a gory action film, but still managed to say something about underdogs and dying for a worthy cause.
“Rise of an Empire” doesn’t try to express similar meanings or themes, instead replacing any greater messages with mindless action and dismembered limbs. It will appeal to those who yearn for bloodlust in their movies, but those searching for anything deeper should look elsewhere.
Gone are Gerard Butler’s mighty King Leonidas and his equally mighty abs. In his place stands Greek general Themistokles, the new lead character played by Sullivan Stapleton. He’s sculpted like an action hero, and his fighting prowess is a force to be reckoned with, but Stapleton’s wooden delivery and lack of charisma make him an inadequate leader incapable of carrying an entire film.
Most of the male characters follow suit, offering bland expressions while sitting around looking “serious” until the next big fight scene. The movie’s problem with fleshing out its heroes makes the subplot regarding a son wanting to fight alongside his dad seem like unnecessary filler in the film’s runtime.
Despite being packed with buffed-up beefcakes, it is the female characters who are the real stars of the film. Lena Headey reprises her brief role as Queen Gorgo, widow of King Leonidas. It’s a shame that Headey is regulated to the sidelines, as her late arrival at a pivotal end battle shows she is every bit as deadly with a sword as any of the film’s men.
Eva Green’s portrayal of Persian naval commander Artemisia is the film’s real highlight. She looks absolutely nuts while making out with a severed head and slicing up Greek soldiers, but her icy and ferocious demeanor makes audiences believe she could easily be in charge of the entire Persian fleet.
Her words ooze out of her mouth in a sultry, venomous tone, and she dominates every scene she is in, including a bizarrely gratuitous, yet memorable, sex scene. Her motivations, along with the rest of the characters, are underdeveloped in favor of delivering more action, but she is by far the best part of the movie.
Despite its shortcomings, “Rise of an Empire” delivers an enjoyable action flick that will appease both hardcore fans of the original and casual action-lovers. While those looking for a film as quotable and genre defining as the original might walk away disappointed, “Rise of an Empire” is otherwise worth seeing for both its stunning visuals and Green’s captivating performance.
Jacoby Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com.