The highly anticipated sequel to 300 (2007), 300: Rise of an Empire (2014, dir. Noam Murro) is an action-packed historical war film loosely based on the events of the Battles of Artemisium and Salamis, in the year 480 BCE. It follows the Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), as the Greeks seek to defend their democracy and freedom against the ruthless Persians; namely the God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), and his ferocious naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green).
After watching 300 a little while ago I’ve had a mild obsession with it, in that I have actually verbally told people in real life that they should watch it, and I normally don’t do that a lot outside of the internet. Even though I had read the reviews for 300: Rise of an Empire when it first came out earlier this year, and was aware of its reception by the general public, I was actually excited to return to the world of the Greeks versus the Persians regardless of any potential drop in quality that should arise.
The first thing I did not remember when I went to watch this film was that it is not, in fact, directed by Zack Snyder. It tries really hard to look like it is, and it’s produced by him, but it definitely isn’t directed by him. It looks like an imitation of the 300 aesthetic with nowhere near as much of the style, if that makes sense. Where 300 had some seriously stylish graphic novel sensibilities about it, this one looks like a copy of it that doesn’t have as much soul. However, I still really appreciate the aesthetics of 300: Rise of an Empire. Even though it doesn’t look quite as amazing as 300, it still looks very good. The issue here is that the comparison is always going to be made, and in that respect, it’s definitely sub-par. Noam Murro is normally an advertising director, and with that in mind, the directorial choices kind of make sense. This film is made up of lots of little interesting directorial moments rather than impressive direction overall.
One thing that I’m really picky about in big-name films nowadays is the conundrum when it comes to having both a 2D and 3D release in cinemas, and whether both versions of the film look like they belong on their respective screens. I’m really not a fan of watching 3D films in the cinema (or ever) because the glasses and visual illusion hurts my brain over time and I’ll never get over the sheer pain that I experienced after watching Alice in Wonderland (2010) at Imax and feeling like my skull was going to explode for about three hours afterwards. But that is besides the point. When watching this in 2D, it is really obvious which elements of a scene were selected to freak people out when watching in 3D. Blood splashing towards the camera, arrows shooting out at you, and swords slashing about in your general direction are all so obvious and annoying when you don’t care about that stuff. I’m sure this may have been thrilling when seen on the big screen in 3D, but on a small screen in 2D it looks so unnecessary and obvious, and as a result, gets quite exasperating over time.
Maybe someone who saw this in 3D can confirm this for me, but it seemed that even the massive gushes of blood were intended to stand out even more on the 3D screen. When watching in 2D, they looked like huge, globular torrents of some sort of overly dense, gelatinous substance, and just totally fake. The gelatinous blood instantly reminded me of this old-school Nickelodeon ad (the one with the globular orange man). In fact, if there’s a general theme to this film, it’s that everything looks overly green-screened and fake. It’s obvious that there is a gigantic amount of computer editing in both 300 films, but only one of the two pulls the look off successfully. Hint: it’s not this one.
In terms of the performances, the film is led by Sullivan Stapleton who is about as white bread as you can get as Themistocles, the champion of Athens and commander of the Grecian army. Sullivan Stapleton is so good in Animal Kingdom (2010), but here, he’s pretty lacklustre and doesn’t have nearly as much charisma as Gerard Butler’s Leonidas. I’m sure his performance was meant to be strong, stoic and warrior-like, but it just appeared wooden. Eva Green is meant to be ferocious and fearless as the Persian naval commander Artemisia, and I normally love her. But in this film, her performance is cartoonishly villainous and there’s none of the subversive nuance that shines through in her other work. Fans of early 90s Australian television will notice Drazic from Heartbreak High – Callam Mulvey, whose performance I actually really enjoyed. Lena Headey also shows up again and puts in a great performance, and actually has a chance to get in on the action towards the end, which I loved.
All this criticism doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy 300: Rise of an Empire. In fact, I thought the story flowed quite well and some of the battle sequences were quite thrilling. I initially thought that this film’s ship-based warfare might be a bit boring compared to the hand-to-hand combat of its predecessor, but I was wrong, and each battle sequence has its own memorable moments, incredibly fake-looking blood notwithstanding. The costuming is really great, particularly for the women, and Lena Headey and Eva Green look amazing throughout. There’s also an awesome remix of ‘War Pigs’ by Black Sabbath over the credits. It does seem like this review is quite heavy on the negative aspects, but it’s not necessarily a bad film. It’s just sub-par, and the poor elements do outweigh the positives. But overall, if you liked 300, it’s probably worth watching this to see how the story ends.
Watch the trailer here.
Watch this film on Amazon!