This … is … subpar!
A good villain and armies of abs can’t save sequel to 300
A good, nasty central villain performance and some decent visuals keep 300: Rise of an Empire from being truly awful. In the end, it’s just marginally bad.
For this sequel to 2006’s 300, director Noam Murro takes over for Zack Snyder (who co-wrote and produced this time out). Murro’s take on the exposed-belly, ancient-warrior thing lacks any real dramatic tension. His film is a bunch of boat fights mixed with people in togas emoting slowly on soundstages.
It’s a little bit of a prequel to 300, in that we see the origins of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the golden god Persian warrior who gave Gerard Butler (who appears in reused footage from 300) such a hard time in the last film. As far as storytelling goes, the Xerxes prologue is easily the most compelling part of the movie. Too bad it accounts for only a few minutes. Later in the film, we realize the events of 300 are going on at the same time as this movie, creating that Back to the Future Part II effect.
The main plot involves Greek general Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. Stapleton is basically Gerard Butler with a slightly less impressive BMI (he’s got a little more around the belly button). He’s basically tasked here with delivering an always determined face and shouting a lot.
The main nemesis, besides Xerxes, would be Artemisia, played wickedly by Eva Green, who makes for a memorable badass in a somewhat unmemorable film. Her character’s backstory does a nice job of showing us why she just wants to kill everybody, and that’s a vibe that always exists behind Green’s eyes. She also has a violent and awkward sex scene with Stapleton that I happened to see in IMAX 3-D. I think that was my first IMAX 3-D sex scene. I felt so dirty.
There are many battles set on the sea, with boats crashing into each other and warriors we follow underwater as they sink to their deaths below. These moments are impressive the first couple of times, but they all start to blend together after a while. Much of the movie’s action feels redundant.
The gore in this movie is quite comical, with CGI blood spurting everywhere, and the action scenes range from serviceable to overkill. I did like the POV shot of Xerxes swinging his ax at Butler’s head and a soldier jumping off a wall with the camera tracking him down as he pounces on a victim. But again, the cool moments wind up getting lost in a sea of repetition and diminishing returns.
Rise of an Empire is slightly better than, say, your average direct-to-video sequel or prequel, but without Butler starring or Snyder directing, it’s ultimately inferior to the first movie. And that first movie wasn’t all that great to begin with.