When Zach Synder’s 300 hit theaters in 2007, the movie was a technical revelation. A visual epic of bloody violence, computer aided abdominals and heroic grunting, the simple story of a group of Spartans defending their realm from an invading horde was a testosterone fantasy. Long shot scenes of Gerard Butler lopping off limbs in fluid slow motion were entrancing and highly stimulating. It was like a bloody ballet, a technical marvel that masked stereotypical characters and a “whatever” plot. It wasn’t great, but it was at least visually original. At least it was good, disposable fun.
Not so with 300: Rise of an Empire. What once was exhilarating is now old hat and rather than pushing the technical envelope, the sequel expands on the original’s weaknesses while supplying none of the thrills. Simply put, there’s no reason for it to exist and even less reason for you to see it.
Taking place in parallel with the original story, Rise of an Empire is told from the perspective of the army of Athens as they prepare for the Persian invasion. The leader of the good guys is Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian hero and Greece’s best hope for taking on the massive armies of Xerxes, the multi pierced antagonist from the first movie. Bearing down on them is the Persian naval commander Artemisa (Eva Green), a borderline psychotic whose zeal for victory is matched only by her lust for cringe inducing one-liners.
At the outset, there’s one glaring issue: Sullivan Stapleton is no Gerard Butler and yes, I’m aware that’s a pretty big slam. While Stapleton gives it his all, the character lacks the unassuming charm and natural likeability of King Leonidas. As incredible as it sounds, Themistocles is even less developed as a character than the original’s chest beating protagonist. Where the original supplies a basic back story, Rise tosses the audience into the fray with nothing to hold onto. Stapleton has the brawn and the never ending litany of rousing speeches, but he can’t deliver them with the gusto of the original king. He’s a boring, who gives a turkey hero that’s impossible to like, let alone root for.
On the other side of the great ocean is Eva Green’s manic Artemisia, Xerxes’ leash holder, main commander and requisite villain. Green’s performance walks a fine line between over the top brilliance and eye rolling awful. While she’s by far the most entertaining part of the film, Green is obviously compensating for a terribly penned script and exhausting action scenes. She’s not good by any stretch but at least she gives an honest go at being fun to watch.
Unlike the dead on arrival action, at least Eva Green is actually breathing. Yes, the only thing a 300 movie should be good at is the film’s biggest disappointment. While Snyder’s slow motion cinematography was entrancing in 2007, it’s now passé in 2014, especially when clumsily directed by newbie Noam Murro. Regardless of who’s behind the camera, we now live in an era where epics like Gravity are pushing the cinematic envelope. Watching a slow motion decapitation doesn’t wow like it used to. Not helping matters is the nautical setting. Where the original framed their violence in a simple mountain valley, Rise stages all its battles on the high seas during a tremendous storm. This baffling decision removes all fluidity from the fighting and turns the action into a swirling, twisting mess. The visual equivalent of throwing GI Joes into a washing machine, the action is impossible to follow and exhausting to watch.
In all honesty, I could forgive many of these issues. The most uncomfortable sex scene since the opening twenty minutes of Irreversible? I’ll excuse it. Modern profanity in the middle of an ancient battle? Cheap attempts at keeping attention, but at least they tried. 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t a waste because of what it does wrong. The movie is a disaster due to what it fails to do right. As a closeted fan, all I wanted from a sequel is something equally entertaining. An early year action flick with simple motives, standard storytelling and quality action. Like my favorite dumb movie, Commando, provide me a basic groundwork for a workable plot, hand over a hero I can easily love and make the action awesome. Do that and I’m a happy camper. Unlike its predecessor, Rise of an Empire completely misses those bullet points in spectacular fashion. The result isn’t just stupid, dumb or even offensive. It’s a colossal waste of time. Either King Leonidas or the folks at Warner Brothers should have lopped the head off of this turd long ago. Preferably in super smooth slow motion.
Score: 3 out of 10
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Jersey born and New York bred, Bill Tucker is a writer of short fiction, film reviews and articles across a variety of genres and media. He currently writes a regular movie column entitled “Behind the Cinematic Curtain” for Revolt Daily, contributes to a fashion blog for www.pop-market.com and has a number of short stories in various stages of publication. When not writing, he works as an IT Trainer for a fashion software company. He currently hangs his hat in Austin, Texas. Check out more of his work at http://www.thesurrealityproject.com.