‘300 Rise of an Empire’ is a sequel to…
Well, wait. It’s not actually a sequel… but not even a prequel. It’s more like a… side-quel?
Rise of an Empire, based on Frank Miller’s yet to be released comic ‘Xerxes,’ plays as a companion piece to Zack Snyder’s 2007 film ‘300.’ It’s a 100 minute action film with key pieces of exposition detailing the origin of the Persian Abercrombie God/King, Xerxes, and includes a new villain by the name of Artemisia played by Eva Green (Casino Royale) and a bunch of action scenes showing what the rest of the Greek forces were doing while the Spartans were being arrogant punks with a death wish.
The heroes in this film fly under different colors, quite literally. The entire color palet changes to blue, aside from the pints of CGI blood. Additionally, the Greek army is led by Athenian general, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) who was the man responsible for killing the father of Xerxes ten years prior, and is paying for his mistake as he tries to unite the city states of Greece against their fabulous ninja foes.
Take what I just described, and paste super slow motion action scenes that you’d expect from ‘300,’ multiply that by a ridiculous amount of blood, and you have this movie. You get what you’re paying for, unless you’ve never heard that ‘This is Sparta’ line.
Zack Snyder has a tendency to slavishly recreate comic book stories as though the panels are his storyboards, and 300 and Watchmen are two of the most clear examples of this. (Man of Steel not so much, but that’s a conversation for another day.)
However, with Rise of an Empire, while Snyder is one of the main producers and writers, this… side-quel is actually helmed by an unknown director from Israel by the name of Noam Murro. Murro does a fine job recreating Snyder’s super slow motion style to the point that you would have never even noticed that the green screened choreography was decided by a different dude.
As mentioned before, the story works as a companion piece to the first film in that what you take away from it is how the 300 spartans were a very small piece of a big story, and you suddenly realize that the valorous Spartans and their King Leonidas are kind of arrogant violent maniacs.
Rise of an Empire portrays it’s alternate lead hero in Themistocles as a much more traditionally nobel general, which, on it’s own, would feel a bit bland, but the film feels like it equally divides its time between its protagonist and it’s main villain in Artemisia, to whom Xerxes kind of takes a back seat in this installment, despite his origin being fully detailed. Although, that does not mean Artemisia is a cardboard cutout villain. It may be a femme fatale trope of a backstory, but it at least does a fair job at explaining how twisted she is, though not until after we see her get pissed off at one of her captains, lopping his head off, making out with said severed head and then slow motion throwing it, splattering bloody neck brains on her crew’s faces. They tell us her origin story after that big ‘WTF’ moment, and this is an example of the movie feeling a bit unsure of itself.
Much like the first ‘300,’ we get a lot of exposition and dramatic reading of script in slight british accents, which are impossible to focus on because they’re being dished out to us when 100% of our perception is focusing on the slow motion blood bath.
Rise of an Empire feels so uncertain about it’s ability to hold it’s audience’s attention that I could envision the opening sequence being planned out by a marketing team: Slow motion, british narration, explosive blood, burning Athens, and throw in a couple of boobs. People love boobs. Put the boobs in slow motion, too.
It hits pretty much all of the same beats as the first while faring well enough to make the scope of the story feel larger than that of the Spartans, but that means that you’re sitting back and enjoying the slaughter while equally slaughtering your own bag of popcorn. That being said, the acting in the film is quite good, as I found myself actually enjoying the balance of Athenian and Persian characters, and laughing on point with the snarky quips and the ‘villian blowing off steam’ kills.
Another fault of the movie is that it felt like it went longer than it should have. It’s not even 2 hours long, but it certainly felt like I was watching it for days due to the amount of slow motion shots. So while the third act was entertaining, it was a chore to watch because I knew it was only setting up for a third film.
Look, it’s a ‘300’ movie. You don’t buy a ticket to this not expecting something specific, and unless you’re insane or unawares, you’re going to get what you expect from it. Does that make it a great film? Tonight-We-Dine-In-HELL No, but out of the modern mindless ancient battle movie ilk, this is pretty good. That being said, these films are going to be at their most effective in a movie theater with friends and a giant bucket of popcorn. Just do it on a matinee day or something. And bring your PlayStation Controllers, because you’ll barely be able to tell the difference anyway.