The Rising of Blood
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!!
Damn. That’s the first word that erupted from my mouth at the end of 300: Rise of an Empire. This sequel to the breakout rated-R hit 300 from 2007 was a bit of a surprise in how long it took to get to the screens, but it was inevitable considering the amount of money the first installment cashed in on. Rise of an Empire is not really a prequel or a sequel, really, it’s more of a prequel/concurring/sequel sort of film. It sounds confusing but the film does throw in enough references (perhaps too many) to let you know when it’s ahead of 300, when it’s running at the same time, and when it transitions into a prequel. While the original focused on the famous Battle of Thermopylae and the Spartan 300 led by King Leonidas, the sequel largely focuses on the Battle of Salamis between the Athenian General Themistocles and the formidable Persian naval Commander Artemisia. It’s largely spectacle (well-done spectacle at that) that truly works when it focuses on the female characters of Artemisia (played brilliantly by the formidable Eva Green) and Queen Gorgo of Sparta (a welcome return by Lena Headey). The men in their muscles are in plentiful abundance, but the main male cast isn’t given much personality and Sullivan Stapleton is a badass but doesn’t give Themistocles much emotion to work with. The naval battles are absolutely spectacular and as suspended as the laws of physics may be, there is something ridiculously awesome in seeing a Persian naval fleet coming down as if in on a tidal wave. Ultimately, 300: Rise of an Empire neither worse, nor better than the original as a complete film. But there is something to be said for the sight of Eva Green kicking ass with two swords, cutting down Greek men with as much ease as you or I would cut cheese on a wooden cutting block. That sight alone is worth the ticket. This is a fun film that has enough tension to keep you going, gives female characters actual roles besides being sex objects, and has enough blood and gore to keep you at bay until Game of Thrones comes back, not that this film has the political and character nuance of Thrones.
The film opens up with the logos of Warner Bros. and Legendary before panning down to the bodies of the original 300 Spartans lying in bloody repose. The golden Xerxes rides though the bodies, swinging his axe and decapitating Leonidas’s body because that for some reason was necessary. The logo then flashes and we settle into the conflict where Persian King Darius is killed by an arrow loosened by Themistocles. His son Xerxes meets his eyes and the enmity is formed. Darius dies from his wounds and Xerxes’s grief is transformed into anger through Artemisia’s skillful manipulation. The war has been set. Plot-wise, the film is remarkably straightforward despite all of the time maneuverings to keep in line with the original. Themistocles is desperately trying to galvanize the Greek city-states to bond together against Persia and despite some of his more brilliant strategies, is fearful that without Sparta’s forces, the Greek coalition will fall and the Persians would conquer Greece. Artemisia is frustrated with the lack of stratagem from her generals and tries to get Themistocles to abandon the Greeks for her side. Add in a few battles and there’s the plot. The film clocks in around 102 minutes and it certainly could have used an additional twenty to thirty minutes to breathe in between scenes instead of jumping from battle to battle.
The acting is a mixed bag in this one. Sullivan Stapleton does a decent job as Themistocles, but he just can’t match Gerard Butler’s Leonidas in gravitas. In essence, he’s a microcosm of the considerable lack of personality given to the Athenians in general. Even the father and son duo meant to give some gravitas to the proceedings is terribly cliched and has its ending telegraphed from their first scene. Rodrigo Santoro is okay as Xerxes, but he doesn’t get more to do than boast about how awesome he was in 300. Cool story, bro. Lena Headey does a great job as the Queen of Sparta, her controlled grief a great prelude to her climactic badassery as several unfortunate Persian soldiers cross her path. But the real standout here is Eva Green as the Persian naval commander Artemisia. Eva grabs onto every small piece of scenery and chews the hell out of it. She is terrifying, powerful, and seductive at the same time. When she draws her two swords out of their sheaths, there is a collective shudder of awe. She is a pure badass and by far one of the best female roles in an action film.
Visually the film is essentially stroked the same way the original film was. Director Noam Murro does a decent job, but he’s basically following Zack Snyder’s footsteps and inventing very little from his own side. You might be surprised there was a different director this time around. The color palette this time around is darker and moodier, but that largely stems from the overwhelming amount of time spent at sea. The blood spraying across the screen is another technique from the original kept intact and it is as loud as it was before. The scenes at sea are gorgeously done, their dark tones gleaming brightly. The 3-D is done pretty well and doesn’t darken the film to the point where it becomes ridiculous. The music is fantastically added to the film, even if Junkie XL becomes quite enthusiastic and threatens to deafen the film and the audience’s ears.
300: Rise of an Empire is a decent enough time. If you were not a fan of the original 300, it’s not quite likely you’ll be a fan of this one, either. It’s not as good. While the original had an overall better story, this one has the more enthralling battle sequences and well, the original did not have Eva Green’s Artemisia. The Athenians lack any shred of recognizable personality, but the Spartans and Persians make up for that to a certain extent. For an action film, the female characters are executed well and even the sex scene halfway through the film is an erotic showcase of both Themistocles and Artemisia. Artemisia impresses in every single frame, her bloodcurdling villainy unleashed with an immensely powerful force. When a man dare questions her ability to lead, she massacres him in front of all of her officers, the pools of blood sending a very clear warning. Queen Gorgo is a masterful showcase of feminine power in an apparently macho warrior culture such as Sparta and she gets to chop up several Persian soldiers of her own. The battles are superb, the 3-D is good, the soundtrack is ballistic, and the fighting choreography, especially for Artemisia, is impressive as all hell. It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the film isn’t.
Title: 300: Rise of an Empire
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Noam Murro
Producers: Gianni Nunnari, Mark Canton, Zack Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Bernie Goldmann
Screenplay: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad
Based On: Xerxes (unpublished) by Frank Miller
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Rodrigo Santoro
Music: Junkie XL
Cinematography: Simon Duggan
Editing: Wyatt Smith, David Brenner
Studios: Legendary Pictures, Cruel and Unusual Films
Distributers: Warner Bros. Pictures
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Dates: March 7, 2014 (United States)
Image Courtesy: This Is Infamous, Yahoo! Movies, Forbes, The Battle of Artemisium @ Blogspot, Major Spoilers