Usually when a movie is successful, it doesn’t take eight years for a sequel to spawn. However that is the case here, with “300: Rise of an Empire”, the sequel to 2006’s “300”, a film that grossed $450 million and has since developed a cult following and become a pop culture hit. Some actors return from the first film, such as Lena Headey who plays the Spartan queen Gorgo, while newcomers Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green play a Greek general and Persian naval commander, respectively. Noam Murro takes over directing duties from Zack Snyder, who this time serves as a producer on the film.
“Rise” is a prequel, sequel and continuation of the first film. It shows the events that led up to the events of the King Leonidas and the 300 marching to fight the Persians, the battle that takes place on the sea between Greece and Persia the same time the Spartans are fighting on land (including several archive footages of the first film) and then the final battle of the Persian War in 480 B.C..
The first “300” revolutionized action movies (and one can argue ruined them) with its excessive use of slow motion and stylized sequences. Since then, most every action and war movie attempts, and usually fails, to find the same level of success using the technique.
“Rise” is not afraid to use the technique that made its predecessor successful. It works better than a lot of other copycats, however the constant slowmo does seem a bit derivative at this point. The stylized and green screen fighting does lend itself to making the constant slowing down and speeding up of action, but by the end of the film it is a burden more than strength.
That isn’t to say the film isn’t pretty to look at. It is beautifully shot, whether it is a sweeping shot of the Persian fleets or immersing you in the middle of a battle, director Murro does a great job always keeping the audiences’ attention.
The two leads do a great job, too. Stapleton may not be as masculine as Leonidas, but he has inspirational quotes and is just as impressive on the battlefield. Green does a good job as the film’s main villain, Artemisia, the female naval commander of the Persian Navy. She knows the film isn’t to be taken too seriously, and provides just the right amount of corniness while at the same time remaining sinister and cruel.
“Rise” may not be as original as the first “300”, but in many ways it does make improvements. The plot is more developed, and characters’ motives and reactions are much more reasonable. In Spartan culture they found glory in death; the Greeks in “Rise” feel much more human. When their comrades die in battle, they are visibly shaken. They don’t look down at their dead friend and say “ah, he’s the lucky one!”. The production value is also higher in this film, which only makes the spectacle all the more grand.
You know what you’re in for when you watch a movie like “300: Rise of an Empire”. It is an over-the-top blood and gore fest with just enough plotline to justify actions. And despite the overuse of slow motion, the film manages to keep you entertained for 90% of the running time, even if by the climax the film begins to wear a little thin. It is by no means a history lesson, but anyone who enjoys period pieces, action or high body counts will enjoy “Rise”. Just leave your brain at the door.
Critics Rating: 6/10