BUST out the body oil and gentlemen start your screaming – it’s 300 time again. Sort of.
Fans of one of the most testosterone-filled action movies must have shouted “A-woo” thrice in glee when they heard that 300 was getting a sequel after a seven-year wait. But 300: Rise of an Empire is not just a sequel – it is also a prequel and a sidequel (thank you “Lost”), taking place after, before and during the events of the first film. For a fan of story continuity the interweaving of the two tales was most pleasant to watch. Zack Snyder (Watchmen, Man of Steel), who directed and co-wrote the original, returns as writer and producer this time around. He is replaced by little known Jewish director Noam Murro who, while capable, lacks the deft hand of Snyder as he brought the first graphic novel to life.
This movie is based on comic book legend Frank Miller’s as yet unreleased graphic novel Xerxes.
As brave King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 Spartans were given a “beautiful death” at the end of the first movie we now get General Themistocles of Athens (Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton) and his unnumbered band of mostly non-descript Athenians. The setting also moves from dusty and barren lands to rough seas, from ground assaults to naval warfare, and the saturated crimson hues are replaced by deep blues.
The bulk of the movie involves the sea battles between the Athenian navy, led by the astute Themistocles, and the much larger and more formidable Persian fleet commanded by the Greek-born Artemisia “whose heart is Persian”, played by Eva Green (Casino Royale, Dark Shadows). And while Stapleton does a decent job of playing the stout hearted and at times doubtful general, it is Green as the beautiful, ruthless and cunning Artemisia who is the true star of the show.
She plays the character with both unbridled passion and unrepressed venom, and steals every scene.
Artemisia also has the longest and most developed back story. Her tragic tale clearly explains her motivations and as an audience we have a love/hate relationship with her. Themistocles has a lust/hate relationship with her and their sea conflict becomes a wonderful metaphor for a turbulent and ultimately doomed romance. As one ship ramming into the port of another when the two finally copulate it is wild and violent.
Themistocles has a brief flashback about him slaying King Darius I, the father of the series’ main villain Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) before he turns into the flamboyant and over the top God-King; about all the empire rising you will get in this movie. This scene tries to explain some of the earlier mentioned doubt but that motivation mostly falls flat. It is also one of the many parts of the movie that skewers historical fact like an Athenian blade through a Persian stomach. Hey, if you want historical accuracy go watch the History Channel or NatGeo.
As a character Themistocles lacks the gravitas of Leonidas and Stapleton is no Butler. Similarly the brotherhood and unity of the 300 Spartans is absent from the group of random Athenians. “Athenians, what is your profession!” just does not have the same ring to it.
The underdog story replaces an outnumbered warrior troupe with an outnumbered fleet, but the bland characterisation of the heroes makes it hard to care for anyone other than Themistocles. It is satisfying to see that the sacrifice of the 300 has led to the uniting of Greece against Xerxes and his innumerable forces.
For fans of the original we do get more brutal and epic slow motion fight scenes, and the ballet of blades and blood is a beautiful thing to behold. Watching in IMAX 3D the blood splatters across the screen and the sea melee is immersive.
The Spartans do return, albeit as supporting characters. David Wenham (Lord of the Rings) is back as the storyteller Dilios but his narration role is taken over by the also returning Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo.
The second strong female character in the film Headey, best known for her role on HBO’s titan fantasy series Game of Thrones but who won me over as Sarah Connor in the short lived and fantastic “Terminator: The Sarah Chronicles”, commendably portrays the mournful and vengeful warrior queen.
If 300 was testosterone-overload Rise is mostly estrogen power, not a rehash of the old but its own, if slightly less gripping story.
FINAL SLICE: 300 Rise of an Empire gets two shirtless, greased-up mangoes out of four.
So did you think the 300 sequel rose to the occasion or fell flat on its face? Feel free to comment below.
And for Eva Green in a less serious role you can check out my review of Dark Shadows here. l8rs