A good villain and decent visuals keep 300: Rise of an Empire from being truly awful—but in the end, it’s still a disappointment.
Noam Murro has taken over for Zack Snyder as the director of this sequel to the 2006 film (though Snyder is still around as a co-writer and producer). Murro’s take on the shirtless-ancient-warrior saga lacks any kind of dramatic tension, so the resulting film is just a bunch of boat fights mixed with people in togas emoting slowly on soundstages.
It’s a bit of a prequel to 300 in that we see the origins of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the golden-god Persian warrior who gave Gerard Butler (who appears in reused footage from 300) such a hard time in the last film. The Xerxes prologue is easily the most compelling part of the movie; too bad it only accounts for a few minutes. Later in the film, it becomes apparent that the events of 300 are going on at the same time as the happenings in this movie, creating a Back to the Future Part II effect.
The main plot involves Greek general Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. Stapleton is basically Gerard Butler with a slightly less impressive BMI, and he’s tasked with delivering an always-determined look and shouting a lot.
The nemesis, besides Xerxes, is Artemisia, played wickedly by Eva Green. Artemisia is a memorable badass in an unmemorable film. Her character’s back story nicely explains why she just wants to kill everybody. She has a violent (and awkward) sex scene with Stapleton that I saw in 3-D IMAX. (It was my first 3-D IMAX sex scene. I felt so dirty.)
The film depicts many sea battles, with boats crashing into each other and warriors sinking to their deaths below the surface (courtesy of underwater points of view). These moments are impressive the first couple of times, but they start to blend together after a while. As a result, much of the movie’s action feels redundant.
Because Butler is off making crap movies like the Point Break remake and Olympus Has Fallen, he couldn’t be bothered to really participate in this one. Therefore, Santoro and Lena Headey (who played Butler’s wife in the first film) are left to represent the original 300. Headey gets a chance to swing a sword near the film’s end; she looks respectable while chopping people up.
The gore in this movie is quite comical, with CGI blood spurting everywhere. The action scenes range from serviceable to overkill. I did like the POV shot of Xerxes swinging his ax, as well as the shot of a soldier jumping off a wall, with the camera tracking him as he pounces on a victim.
Sadly, the cool moments wind up getting lost in a sea of repetition and diminishing returns. The ending leaves things open for another sequel, so I’m guessing we will be seeing Mr. Xerxes again.
300: Rise of an Empire is slightly better than, say, your average direct-to-video sequel or prequel. But without Butler starring and Snyder directing, the product is ultimately inferior to the first movie—and the first movie wasn’t all that great to begin with.
300: Rise of An Empire is playing in various formats at theaters across the valley.