300: Rise of an Empire REVIEW

Written by Guillermo Troncsoso.

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300: Rise of an Empire is indeed a rare beast, a violent epic that favours visuals and action over plot and dialogue, and ends up, somehow, becoming a ludicrously fun ride.

300: Rise of an Empire isn’t exactly a sequel, while certain time-jumping moments depict what happens after the events of the first film, this story, for the most part, takes place at the same time as the events in 300. We follow Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom), a Greek general who leads his army against the Persians forces, led by Artemisia (Eva Green). Sure, there’s slightly more to the story, but really, who’s here for the plot? The outline of the plot is delivered in the first half-hour or so, clearing the way for an hour of almost non-stop, balls-to-the-wall action.

While the first film was all about the men, this one is all about the women – make that, the woman. Eva Green gives a fantastic, scenery-chomping performance, giving us one of the finest female villains the big-screen has seen in some time. Artemisia is a riveting creation, a Greek-born woman with a hideously tragic past, hell-bent on avenging the death of her beloved King Darius, who was killed by none other than Themistokles. It’s a savage performance, to be sure, but Green manages to balance it out by bringing an intoxicating charm to her character’s maliciousness, almost making you laugh as she kisses a decapitated head.

Green’s stand-out performance leaves everyone else by the wayside – even our hero. Sullivan Stapleton is a fine actor, but he just doesn’t have the larger-than-life screen presence that this film sorely needs. Basically, he doesn’t really bring this film the same sort of leader that Gerard Butler brought with King Leonidas. Stapleton isn’t bad, merely adequate, while never really convincing us in a man that so many would follow into combat. Although, the few scenes that Themistokles shares with Artemisia are great, including a truly entertaining, eyebrow-raising sex scene.

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Those that were under the impression that this is the type of film where dialogue is poetic and characters are multilayered will probably be shocked. It’s not that kind of movie. This, this is about the action – and there’s a hell of a lot of that. Honestly, you may even feel slightly guilty with how much fun you have witnessing swarms of men dismember each other. Director Noam Murro (Smart People) directs the warfare as stylishly as possible, with large-scale sea battles unfolding creatively and beautifully. To Murro’s credit, these long battle-scenes don’t get boring or repetitive, they simply outdo each other, culminating in a final sequence that combines every trick in the book to pull off an awesome “one-take” wonder involving a horse on water.

If only the screenplay was on par with the visual effects. The dialogue just doesn’t have the air of importance that it tries so hard to have. Many-a-moment is spent in speech-mode, as armies rally towards what appears to be certain death. Alas, as they speak, we look at our watches.

The visuals are outstanding, no question. Frank Miller’s comic book artwork is gorgeously brought to life in splashes of red and black. It may be a bit much to ask for some more interesting characters and some dialogue worth hearing, but there’s an abundance of fun to be had here. While 300: Rise of an Empire certainly tops the first film in the violence and gore department, it doesn’t top it as an overall film. Instead, it stands firmly alongside Zack Snyder’s original. This is dumb-fun entertainment, a big, brash spectacle of CG wizardry and blood-spraying giddiness.

THE REEL SCORE: 7/10

G.T.