‘300’ may not have been Zack Snyder’s first film, but it was thanks to that film’s huge success that made Snyder as famous as he is today, whereas 2004’s ‘Dawn of the Dead’ was basically a good ‘first impression’. Since that film came out in 2007, other films have tried to copy the film’s unique visual style but none have really achieved the same level of success of Snyder’s film. Now, 7 years after the original came out, the fictionalized world of Frank Miller’s ‘300’ continues with ‘300: Rise of An Empire’. This one, like its predecessor, is also based on one of Miller’s graphic novels, ‘Xerxes’. However, at the time I am writing this, it has yet to be published and there is currently no word on when it will be released. Also, for this film, Snyder does not return to direct seeing how he has been busy with ‘Man of Steel’ and its upcoming sequel. So, in his place is director Noam Murro, whose only film to date is the 2008 dramedy ‘Smart People’. Yeah, you have to admit that’s kind of an ‘out of left field’ choice to take over this franchise but Murro succeeds in continuing the franchise the same way Snyder started it with the original ‘300’. Sure, it may not be the best written film ever but it is still very much entertaining to watch.
While it may seem like a sequel, ‘Rise of An Empire’ is actually more of an interquel, taking place during the events of the original ‘300’ although some scenes do take place before and after that film. This film begins during the Battle of Marathon, 10 years before the events of the first film, between the Athenians and the Persians. There, Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) kills Persian King Darius I. However, this event soon begins to set the groundwork for the war to come as Darius’ son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) takes his father’s advice and becomes ‘the god king’ because it is the only way the Greeks can truly be defeated. As Xerxes begins his invasion on the people of Greece, Themistocles begins to rally the Athenian fleet as they begin their fight against the Persian naval fleet, led by Xerxes’ vengeful commander Artemisia (Eva Green), who seeks vengeance against Greece after her family was killed when she was younger (she herself actually being born a Greek).
Even with the change in direction, this film maintains the same highly stylized look of the original. However, Murro’s film is also noticeably much grittier in tone than Snyder’s film. For one thing, it doesn’t have the same exact level of mysticism as the original had during certain scenes. It’s clear that the original ‘300’ was more of a historical fantasy while this one feels just a bit more grounded in reality… though keep in mind, we’re still talking about a film with a king that’s eight feet tall and covered in piercings, amongst some other things, so it’s still very much an historical fantasy. As such, in execution, this movie is just as awesomely entertaining as the original with all of its stylized action scenes that are full of slow-motion shots and digitized blood whenever someone is killed in battle. Yes, that admittedly does come at the expense of quality writing but then again, the original ‘300’ was also technically not that well-written either. But again like that film, this film’s not completely empty-minded. There are still the themes of honor and unity and as such, the movie’s not a total case of ‘style over substance’.
Still, many of the characters do fall rather flat, save for one character; Artemisia. Not only is she the standout character of the whole film, but Eva Green absolutely steals the show with her performance. She really gets into the role of this fierce and sexy commander of the Persian Naval Fleet and in a movie full of characters that don’t really get much character development, her character is easily the most fleshed out given her rather tragic backstory. She outshines everyone else in the cast, though that’s not to say some don’t give solid performances. Lead Sullivan Stapleton may not have the tenacity or bold attitude that Gerard Butler had as Leonidas, but he still does a rock solid job in the role for what he is given. The same can be said for the other members of the cast, including both returning characters (like Lena Headey as Leonidas’ widow, Queen Gorgo) and even some of the new characters (like Jack O’Connell as the son of one of Themistocles’ soldiers). Still, this movie belongs to Eva Green.
If you were a fan of the original ‘300’, I have the feeling that this film will very much satisfy you just as much as that film did. It’s just as entertaining and awesome as the original film and even though Zack Snyder does not direct this film, director Noam Murro still makes the movie feel very much like Snyder’s ‘300’. Yes, it’s not the best-written film ever and, when compared to the original, this suffers a bit more in regards to quality story and character development. Still, the film manages to be entertaining enough to the point where you can still have a good time with it while watching it. These ‘300’ films are some of the most perfect examples of ‘popcorn flicks’. Don’t get into this film expecting some quality writing because by the end of it, you’re going to leave pretty disappointed. This is just a fun and simple fantasy ‘swords and sandals’ flick and for some, that’s exactly what they came to see.