Eight years after the original taught us where it was set when a shouting man kicked a messenger into a bottomless pit, we are once again invited back to pre-financial collapse Greece to battle the oncoming tidal wave of foreign invaders. However, it is not Merkel’s Germans that the Greeks must defeat, but Xerxes’ Persian forces – altogether more brutal (but less efficient).
• Director: Noam Murro
• Exhibition: 2D
• Rating: 15
• Run Time: 102 mins
300: Rise of an Empire is not just a prequel, it is also a companion film and sequel to 2006’s original adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300. This time, using Miller’s Xerxes title as a jumping off point, this movie tells the story of Greece’s answer to Sparta’s Leonidas, the much more difficult to spell general Themistokles (Stapleton) as he attempts to unite Greece ahead of their otherwise inevitable demise at the hands of the Persian god-king. This film focuses on the naval battles between the meagre number of Greek ships and the might of the Persian navy, led by the ferocious Artemesia (Green).
While Zack Snyder moves to the producers chair for this project, leaving Israeli director Noam Murro in the directorial hot seat, the change is barely felt. Like the first 300, style takes priority over substance and visuals are often spectacular. The opening of the film sets up the story and tone well, with an epic battle reminiscent of the battle at the Hot Gates in the first. Time plays an important part here, with the action slowing and speeding up to give you a better look at the chaos.
Like Butler’s Leonidas, Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistokles takes centre stage in the story. His actions during the previously mentioned opening set in motion the events of the two movies. However, unlike the Spartan king, his Greek democrat is perhaps too straight-laced in a world with not a shoe in sight. Stapleton does a good job in carrying the movie despite this and is greatly helped by a terrific turn from Eva Green as the brutal Artemesia.
As the events of the two movies are so linked, the absence of the gruff Scotsman is felt. At one point, Themistokles visits Sparta to ask for their aid, but Leonidas is absent throughout. In fact, the entire movie feels almost too tied to the original and ends up as a supplementary element to the universe. The more interesting story was indeed told in 300, which leaves Rise of an Empire feeling notably inconsequential.
Despite this, the naval battles are truly spectacular, rivalling the multiple scenes of carnage in the Spartan version of events. It also offers a varied palette from which to work with and allows for the epic final confrontation to be, well, epic. While the closing gambit seemed to come out of nowhere, at that point I didn’t care and simply went with it.
If there was one element in particular I was disappointed in it was the soundtrack. Tyler Bates provided the music for the first film and it still sits proudly in my collection so I can dip back into it when I feel like riling myself up to take on the day. Here, though, the only moments I noticed the soundtrack was when it was distractingly bad.
300: Rise of an Empire does not seem to have a strong enough reason to exist narratively. Thankfully, this is made up for by introducing us to characters like Artemesia and giving us battles that, at times, trump the original’s chaotic ballets of death. While my expectations were relatively low going in, I enjoyed my return trip to Greece and would recommend it to others on Trivago!