300 became an unknown sleeper hit back in 2006. Director Zack Snyder created a wholly stylized world, and filled it with six packs, testosterone, and some of the most quotable lines of movie dialogue. That was 2006, this is 2014, and we have a prequel/sequel/parallel story to the original, in, 300: Rise of an Empire. So, after eight years, was anyone even clamouring for another 300 movie? Well, certainly not me, I was not even a big fan of the first movie. Loved the stylized violence, but hated the simple-minded, and male driven nature of it’s story-telling. However, I was curious, Snyder wasn’t directing it, and Eva Green was the movie’s female lead, and villain.
So, is 300: Rise of an Empire a good movie? Well, that answer is complicated. It has moments of genuine entertainment, but Rise of an Empire ends up feel like a cover version of the original. It has everything that most people loved about 300, but you can’t help but feel like you’ve seen it all before, and it was done better.
Noam Murro is the director this time around, but when you compare the two movies visually, they look the same. Scenes look as if they were paintings in motion, every frame looks absolutely stunning, but it also has a feeling of familiarity. Not only because you’ve seen similar visuals in the first movie, but also because there isn’t much variety in the scenery. Once you reach the movie’s middle act, the setting never really changes. It was great to see some naval battles this time around, but almost all of the film’s fight sequences takes place on boats or rock cliffs before they jump onto the boats, and fight there. I don’t have a problem when movies choose to focus more on style, but there should offer some diversity to what you see on screen. By the time the final fight takes place you really just want it to be over.
The real reason to watch, and, quite honestly the only reason to watch this movie, is for Eva Green’s performance. Green plays Artemisia, the commander of the Persian naval force. It turns out that she is the real reason the Persian army is invading Greece. She poisons Xerxes’ mind with revenge after, an athenian soldier, by the name of Themistocles, played by Sullivan Stapleton, kills his father during battle. Xerxes, filled with rage, and manipulated by Artemisia, embraces his god king status, and goes to war with Greece.
Rise of an Empire, felt like it was going to focus more on the rise of Xerxes, and how a young man became the god king, we all know, but it never does that. The moment war is declared, the movie wisely focuses on Artemisia, and we find out her backstory, and her motivations for wanting to destroy the Greeks. As a young girl she witnessed the brutal deaths of her family, and was forced into the life of a sex slave on a Greek ship. That fact, serves to undercut the ideology, and the notion of freedom, and democracy the movie’s heroes are fighting to protect, and it’s a big reason I fell in love with the character.
Her character is so great, and such a total badass that making her the villain was a serious letdown. Green is filled with such fire, that every time she is on screen, she dominates over everyone around her. And, she does it all with such extreme ferocity, and explosive sexuality. None of the male protagonists or antagonists outdo her in any scene. Even, Stapleton as Themistocles, can’t match up to her.
There is fight/fuck scene in the middle of the movie, between Themistocles, and Artemisia, that is a really great scene. It is choreographed so well, that instead of that scene coming across as WTF, it displays Artemisia’s dominance over her male adversaries, and shows how much of a master manipulator she can be. A scene that could have simply been done for gratuitous reasons becomes a scene of female dominance. There’s a moment when Themistocles tries to take her from behind, and then she hits him, and jumps on top of him. It’s easy to discard this scene, but there are layers of interoperation to this scene. It also shows you the lengths Artemisia will go to get what she wants, even using her sexuality to get it. She’s truly a fascinating character, especially for a women in a movie primarily dominated by men.
On the other hand, the men in this movie are all a serious disappointment. Snyder’s 300 benefitted from it’s casting. It was the first time many out us were introduced to Michael Fassbender. It also included great performances from Dominic West, David Wenham, and, of course, Gerard Butler. Butler’s commanding performance, especially his perfect line delivery, is what elevated the first movie. Stapleton, just does not have that same presence. In a movie that is larger than life, you need a lead to match it. Lena Heady and David Wenham do return for this film, but Wenham is nothing more than a cameo, and Heady mainly serves as the narrator. Even, Rodrigo Santoro’s Xerxes, is barely there for a movie that is supposed to trace the rise of his empire.
Come see, Rise of an Empire, for it’s stunning visuals, and fairly entertaining fight scenes, but stay for Eva Green’s Artemisia. The narrative may let her character down by the end, but her presence on screen is what makes this second entry in the franchise watchable. Director Noam Murro should be credited with doing a commendable job in replicating the first film, but I wouldn’t be surprised, if it was leaked that Snyder stepped in front of the camera from time to time. 300: Rise of an Empire is not the worst time you could have at the theatre. It has great visual flare, and a decent narrative, but as the film runs along, that feeling of having seen this all before creeps in.
Score: 6 out 10.