Movie Review: ‘300: Rise Of An Empire’


Film: 300: Rise Of An Empire
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green
Directed by: Noam Murro

When 300 marched into theaters back in 2006 it ushered in a new era in action filmmaking that would be quickly be plagued by shoddy knockoffs. At this point it’s hard to remember exactly how many films have used the ‘slow things down right when the best moment of action occurs’ trick, but we all have Zack Snyder, Gerard Butler, Michael Fassbender, and 298 other soldiers to thank for that. Now, six years later, two of those three have moved on to bigger things and one is left to executive productive (and co-write) the long-awaited second chapter that is far from a continuation of Leonidas’ epic journey.

300: Rise Of An Empire is not a sequel or prequel to 300, but rather a story that takes places during the events of Zack Snyder’s original Frank Miller adaptation. While Leonidas and his troops are marching to meet Xerxes at the gate, this film follows the journey of the Athenian known as Themistokles, who leads an army of his own into battle at sea. This means the cliffhanger at the end of the 2006 feature, which found Dilios leading troops into battle, will have to wait for 300 part 3 (303?).

Xerxes, the man-turned-god king of the Persian army, is back once more, but other than having his rise to power detailed in a lengthy opening sequence Rise chooses to leave him in the background and instead focus on the inspiration for his madness, Artemisia. She whispered the words to Xerxes that created the monster who now commands thousands, making her in many ways makes her the Gepetto to Xerxes’ Pinocchio, and she now has the death Themistokles on her mind.

Sullivan Stapleton is passable as Themistokles, but his performance feels like it could be handled by any fairly attractive actor with abs. He focuses his speeches on teamwork, and how the strength of the Athenian’s many subcultures coming together is far more substantial than any sect standing alone. This, of course, is the opposite of everything Leonidas preached in 300, but remember – this is not that story. Rise Of An Empire takes place in the 300 universe and little more. Aside from a few brief sequences in Sparta where none of the a-list stars make a return appearance, the role of the Spartans in this story is very minimal.

There are two aspects to Rise Of An Empire that keep the film from completely falling on its face. The first, and perhaps soon to be most talked about, is the crazed antics of Eva Green as Artemisia. She is a vicious, often vile woman who knows how to manipulate even the strongest men to bend to her will. She finds her match in Themistokles, and the electricity they share eventually builds to a sex scene that can only be likened to two teens drunk on love and schnapps trying to fool around with almost no idea what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s absurd to a point of hilarity, and to be honest I am still trying to decide whether or that is the point.

The second saving grace for Rise Of An Empire is its decision to leave the safety of land and take on the challenges presented by making a historical battle epic at sea. The computer effects may be heavy, but the payoff for the hard work of the visual FX team is completely worth it when wooden ships begin colliding. As the intensity of each battle rages, so do the amount of ships, bodies, and explosions (yes, there are explosions). There are even horses!

If 300 was a bro-version of history on steroids, Rise Of An Empire suffers from full blown roid rage. The violence is more graphic, the sex is more over-the-top, the speeches are worthy of more chest thumps than Mcconaughy’s humming in Wolf Of Wall Street, and the CGI blood is shinier and more globular than ever (thanks in no small part to the fact Rise is in 3D). It’s a video game without controls. Just sit back, sip on your soda, and allow the digitally-manipulated people to pretend attack each other on the digitally created battlefield.

Score: C-

Review written by: James Shotwell

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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