The original “300”, while not the most critically successful film, spawned a new wave of stylised, historical-based action films such as “Clash of the Titans”, “Immortals”, “Season of the Witch” and others, and now, 8 years later, a sequel. “Rise of the Empire” takes place during and after the events of the original 300, focusing instead on the Athenian general Thermistocles and his efforts to unite Greece against the common enemy of the Persians.
The film starts with Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo narrating the story of Thermistocles’ victory at Marathon and how he killed Xerxes’ father, Darius. It is a good starting point and sets up his character well while also tying him to the events which explain Xerxes’ transformation from man to God. A lot of work is done in developing the new characters, such as Thermistocles, Xerxes and the new villain Artemisia, the head of Xerxes’ navy, early on in the story. This effort indeed pays off since it gives almost all of the context to the later battles and set-pieces. That said, fans of the original film may find these early scenes somewhat heavy on dialogue and character development and short on the stylish, slow motion fight scenes they’ve come to expect. The film does a fair job in offering up enough blood and missing limbs but doesn’t go as heavy on the mythology as the previous film – this time around the Oracle and Xerxes’ mutant army are replaced with one brief shot of a poorly-made sea monster that fails to be expanded upon.
Thermistocles does his best not to get too bogged down in Athenian politics and Sullivan Stapleton does a reasonably good job of differentiating himself from Gerard Butler’s Leonidas but it’s hard to shake the feeling, early on, that he is going back and forth repeating himself trying to achieve his vision of a united Greece which fails to materialise until much later on. As the plot picks up it is clear that the simplistic Spartans have no interest in cooperation but are willing enough to waste Thermistocles time by having him turn up every few weeks asking repeatedly if they are willing to join the Athenians. Thermistocles resolves then to fight the Persian navy head on with what little ships and soldiers the Athenians can muster and, mirroring the insurmountable odds of the original film, makes it truly feel like they are in for a hard time.
What is hard to buy, apart from the extremely clichéd and camp dialogue, during all the blood and guts spilling all over the place, is the style and flair by which the Athenians carve through their enemies without taking so much as a scratch. We are told that these Greeks are mere “farmhands”, “blacksmiths” and “peasants” and that they don’t stand a chance but I suppose everybody loves the kind of odds that make Jason look like an ant and Goliath like a small mountain.
This film is pure entertainment and it succeeds in capturing the tone and style of the original in a fantastic way. It almost makes no difference in which gruesome manner the next person’s head is lopped off because it is so stylish and confident that nobody will bat an eye. On top of this what makes this film work so well is the addition of Eva Green as the equally sexy and deadly Artemisia who greases the metaphorical cogs or in this case torso’s of the film’s camp plot and commands every scene she is in. Sullivan Stapleton on the other hand doesn’t quite match up to the brutish, obtuse but also charming Leonidas and is, instead, much more civilised in his actions outside of combat. There are no more lines delivered such as “This is Sparta!” though Zach Snyder tries his best with the script.
The end result is a film which ends up being even camper than the original featuring an almost instantaneous transformation of Xerxes from pre-pubescent child to towering sex-dungeon-escque male stripper, lines such as “Shut your cockhole!” and one of the most bizarre and ridiculous sex scenes ever played out on film. Overall then, “300: Rise of an Empire” is much the same as its predecessor: camp, gory, ridiculous and simply entertaining.
300: Rise of an Empire is in cinemas now