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.
Director Noam Murro takes over for Zack Snyder, who has a reduced role of co-writer and producer 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 that 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 only accounts for 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. In short, he’s been asked to do what Butler had to do in the last film, with perhaps a little less airbrushing on the abs.
The main nemesis, besides Xerxes, would be Artemisia, played wickedly by Eva Green. Green 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 has a violent and awkward sex scene with Stapleton that I happened to see in 3-D IMAX. I think that was my first 3-D IMAX sex scene. I felt so dirty.
There are many battles set on the sea, with boats crashing into each other and warriors sinking to their deaths below the surface courtesy of underwater POV. These moments are impressive the first couple of times, but they all start to blend together after awhile. Much of the movie’s action feels redundant.
I was actually experiencing deja vu, and the memories I was reminded of had occurred just minutes before in the same movie. So, in essence, this movie rips itself off, if that makes sense. It probably doesn’t. I’ll move on.
Because Butler is off making crap movies like the Point Break remake and Olympus Has Fallen, he couldn’t really be bothered to participate fully in this one. So, Santoro and Lena Headey, who played Butler’s wife in the previous film, are left to represent for the original 300 lovers. Headey gets a chance to swing a sword near film’s end, and looks respectable chopping people up.
The gore in this movie is quite comical, with CGI blood spurting everywhere. 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.
The cool moments wind up getting lost in a sea of repetition and diminishing returns. The way the story ends leaves things open for a sequel, so I’m guessing we will be seeing Mr. Xerxes again.
300: Rise of an Empire is slightly better than, say, your average direct-to-video sequel or prequel. Without Butler starring or Snyder directing, the product is ultimately inferior to the first movie, and that first movie wasn’t all that great to begin with.