“300: Rise of an Empire” Movie Review

     “300: Rise of an Empire” pulls off a neat trick by arriving as neither a prequel or sequel by definition.  It would be rather presumptuous to believe the only battle meriting big screen treatment in the conflict between the Greek and Persian armies was the one told with testosterone amped bravado in director Zack Snyder’s “300”.  Now seven years later, Snyder returns in the producer and co-writer roles with director Noam Murro to bring what is essentially a companion piece to the original film.  While King Leonidas and his Spartan warriors waged war against Xerxes, another battle was looming which pitted the massive Persian Navy against that of the Greeks, who are woefully overmatched in numbers, but succeed due to the tactics and leadership of Admiral Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton).  Providing the inspiration once again is Frank Miller, who conceived the film via his graphic novel “Xerxes”, which was intended to be a logical continuation of the story told in the original film.

     The unique visual style used by Snyder in “300” is brought back in “Rise of an Empire”, with an even bigger emphasis on crimson in the color palette.  The armies depicted are still hulking well muscled men, who obviously spent months doing the now famous “300” workout in preparation for their roles.  The testosterone factor is still there, but Snyder and his co-writer, Kurt Johnstad, have added significant leadership roles for the female characters this time, which offers a significant change of pace and tone.  Returning as Queen Gorgo, Lena Headey is the film’s narrator and also functions now as the leader of the Spartan army, a role which allows her to get into the action and avenge her husband’s death.  On the other side, significant backstory is dedicated to the rise of Artemisia (Eva Green) as the commander of the Persian Navy and the sole confidant of Xerxes.  With Stapleton unable to achieve the manly heights of Butler in the first film, the satisfaction one gets from watching this film will depend on whether or not you buy into these two ladies as both leaders and warriors.

     There are politics in play throughout the story.  Themistocles has tried for years to unite the various states within Greece in order to make for a more powerful and influential country.  His home state of Athens is a democracy and does not approve of Sparta, which is led by a King whose throne is predetermined generation after generation.  With Xerxes in battle with Sparta and his intention to crush Greece once and for all, the need to unite has never been more clear.  This story line is the predominant one throughout “Rise of an Empire” and leads to a point in time where we know the 300 army is in battle with Xerxes, while we now see the resulting battle taking place in the ocean between the Persian Navy and the Greek Navy.  This pits Themistocles against Artemisia in a battle which is thought to be easily won by the Persians with their advantage in numbers.

     Murro stages several darkly lit oceanic sequences in which the audience is given a bird’s eye view of the two sides as they maneuver against one another.  Themistocles employs a number of tactics ranging from ramming the Persian ships in the middle where they are the weakest to creating confusing formations with which to attack from.  Artemisia counters in much the same way, making full use of her resources in several key battles.  Eva Green makes the most of her role as Artemisia, putting on quite a show as the merciless commander.  At one point, perhaps the most ludicrous of the film, she invites Themistocles to her ship for a sex-capade in an attempt to lure him to change sides, as if.  You have to respect her energy, even if the performance is a bit over the top.

     “Rise of an Empire” follows the typical sequel tropes one would expect from this kind of fare, with a never ending supply of decapitations, chopped off limbs, and gratuitous nudity thrown in for good measure.  It is the poster child for gore porn and I suspect there will be audiences who will lap this up to the very last drop.  The 3D version of the film features an array of splattering blood effects that sometimes stay on the figurative camera lens for a few seconds or until the shot cuts away to another tidal wave of crimson splashing in our faces.  The story here is rather dull and there isn’t a single piece of memorable dialogue to be found anywhere.  The characters attempt motivating speeches, but they just don’t rise to the level of anything Butler belted out in the original.  As expected, “Rise of an Empire” feels more like a second helping of something you’ve  had before, failing to really offer anything fresh and interesting.  On some level; however, one must respect the visual artistry and the ability to create scenes taken directly from the pages of Miller’s graphic novels.  GRADE : C