Movie Reviews

‘300: Rise of an Empire’: The abs strike back

By Zaki JufriMovies - 06 March 2014 12:00 AM | Updated 5:37 PM

‘300: Rise of an Empire’: The abs strike back

Our Rating

3/5 Stars

When ‘300’ came out in 2006, it caused quite a stir. 

Director Zack Snyder, in translating writer Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC to the big screen, boldly created an ultraviolent swords-and-sandals beefcake erotica.

A veritable slaughterhouse of a movie that starred then unknowns Gerard Butler, Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro, ‘300’ was a sure-fire hit, especially among the fan boys. 

Its sequel ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ faithfully applies the same comic-book aesthetic as its predecessor, while dripping in even more machismo.

Israeli commercials director Noam Murro takes over the reigns from Zack Snyder, working from a script by the original team of Frank Miller, Snyder and Kurt Johnstad.

Murro delivers what is expected, but it somehow lacks the visual style and emotional engagement of the original. 

And, oh… it lacks the inane one-liners that made ‘300’ perhaps one of the most oft-quoted movies (“Tonight, we dine in hell!”) of all time.

‘Rise of an Empire’ takes place before, during, and after the events depicted in 2006’s ‘300’. King Leonidas and his troops lay dead at Thermopylae, and the Persian army, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) continues to threaten Greece with an overwhelming ground and sea force. 

Chronologically though, the film starts a decade earlier, when a Greek general named Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) kills the Persian king Darius, and inadvertently sets young Xerxes on the road to vengeance. 

Read also: '300: Rise of an Empire' by the numbers

After his failure to unite Greece as a nation and refusal of help from Sparta by Queen Gorgo (Headey), Themistocles resorts to taking on the Persians himself, assembling a small army of men and ships to thwart the Persian navy from striking land.

As the Greek’s successes mount, Themistokles’ efforts catch the admiration of Artemisia (Eva Green), Persia’s most formidable general 

But eventually, the sheer force of Artemisia’s men decimates the Greeks.

EVA GREEN KEEPS MOVIE AFLOAT 

As Athenian general Themistokles, Sullivan Stapleton is dull as the career soldier character. Although he brings the needed physicality to the role, he lacks the intensity and charisma of Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas in the first movie 

As over-the-top his performance in ‘300’ was, Butler (somehow) was clued in on the absurdity of it all and gave a larger-than-life performance.

Stapleton, despite his earnest performance, plays his underdog general far too seriously. It’s not a bad thing but it does get too one-dimensional. 

While ‘300’ was Butler’s movie, ‘Rise of an Empire’ belongs to Eva Green. As the ruthless Greek-born Persian commander, Green’s Artemisia has ice in her veins and maybe even the most balls in this movie dominated by waxed muscular men in leather Speedos.

Malice is not only her strong suit; Artemisia is the kind of villain that slices off a man’s head, but then picks it up later to kiss its lips.

 Perhaps the best example of this is the scene where Themistocles accepts an invitation to go aboard her ship to discuss terms, which quickly turns into a ferocious power-play sex scene. “You fight harder than you f***!” she taunts Themistokles in their final face-off.

SHARP VISUAL STYLE REMAINS

Murro takes a leaf out of Snyder’s playbook. Working solely on blue-screen and CGI, he apes Snyder’s fast-action-to-slow-mo-and-back style (to replicate the pages of a comic book) to a tee and doesn’t skimp on the blood-soaked action. 

The crimson flies thick and fast, almost torrential at times thanks to the countless slashings, decapitations, arrow piercings and all manners of butchery.

Death and destruction is ramped up to the nth degree that the film should instead be named ‘300: On Steroids’.

It all seems exciting at first but after the tenth brutal death, the violence, though necessary, is overplayed and gets infuriating.

While the visual palette and graphics is a feast for the eyes, it is not without flaws. The Spartans in ‘300’, with their crimson capes, provided the necessary visual contrast against the movie’s over-saturated world. That is not the case in ‘Empire’ where the canvas is bathed in washed-out coppery hues that are just begging for a splash of colour for the eyes to focus on. 

Even the Greek uniforms with their blue capes look drab while the invaders are relegated to having their time mostly in silhouette and shadow.

NOT WITHOUT FLAWS

Another frustrating flaw of the movie might be its non-linear style. Stories jump around in time as well as character arcs resulting in a mess of a movie that totters to and fro between the past, present and future.

Fortunately, the movie does settle into a coherent story but it does seem a little too late.

It might not have the gravitas of the first movie but fans of the original will relish the attempt at continuity while the wall-to-wall (and bloody) set pieces are pure popcorn entertainment.

Just don’t expect to be shouting “This is Sparta!” from your seats because honestly, it isn’t.

‘300: Rise of an Empire’ is now showing in cinemas

300: Rise Of An Empire

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  • 300: Rise Of An Empire 2014
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300: Rise Of An Empire
  • 300: Rise Of An Empire

    (2014)
  • Rated
    M18 /
    Genre
    Action, Drama
  • Language
    Eng
  • (5 Reviews)