Writer/director Zack Snyder crashed into our theaters with waves of blood with 300 back in 2006. I was among the moviegoing crowds, shaking with excitement for the lights to dim. Most motion pictures that depict war from major Hollywood studios are brought to us with a watered-down PG-13 rating. If the subject is depicting a brutal time in history, it should be shown as such. Either include the violent effects that come with war, or don't make it all. This is why Warner Bros. surprised many with its incredibly brutal adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel. Certain quotes from the film still find their way into Internet-language and memes, as it has clearly left a lasting impression with audiences. It's such a shame that it took so long for a sequel to be made. Well, the time has finally come. Welcome to 300: Rise of an Empire.
The threat of mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and a vengeful commander of the Persian navy, Artemisia (Eva Green) are very real to all of those who stand in their way. Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the charge against invading Persian forces. However, their chances of success are unlikely due to the fact that their numbers are primarily made up of villagers and young men. Nevertheless, Themistokles continues to fight for Greece's protection and freedom by using alternative methods.
300: Rise of an Empire isn't necessarily a straight forward follow-up. It acts as both a prequel and a sequel, which also spends time running alongside the events occurring during the first feature. Writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad start the film by explaining how Xerxes came to be and how Themistokles is held responsible for many of the events that are occurring. There's a lot more backstory here than I remember there being in the previous motion picture, as we're provided with a lot of the motives for why each main character is fueled to accomplish a certain goal. This aids in making us feel closer to the characters, as they feel less like cold warriors and more like human beings. Nobody is going to see 300: Rise of an Empire for the character disposition, but I found myself more interested in these characters than I am with roles in the typical action flick. The first 300 provided quite a few lines of dialogue that worked their way into mainstream culture, but that won't happen here. While the writing was never great, it was fitting for the enjoyment of the picture. Unfortunately, the dialogue is pretty lame and tacky in this follow-up.
There is a constant back-and-forth that will ultimately lead to a battle between our hero and Artemisia. Even when they aren't directly speaking with one another, the glances that they share from one ship to the other is quite powerful. With the sound of the rage-filled ocean in the background, there's a certain chaotic nature to every interaction had between them that is quite fitting. However, audiences will likely be speaking about a more physical interaction had between the two characters. There is a sex sequence where Themistokles and Artemisia fight for dominance over one another, which will surely have mixed reactions. Regardless of whether you believe that it's even necessary, this scene provides a lot of eye candy for all audiences, regardless of gender and sexual orientation. The tension shared between these two characters works on several levels, making for more interesting battles.
The fight sequences are absolutely critical to these films, and this sequel/prequel doesn't disappoint in this field. There are several forms of fighting here. Rather than watching them push through large groups of Persians, there are quite a few sea battles. The Greeks find weak spots in the enemy ships, board, and destroy them. However, they're greatly outnumbered and many of them have very little experience with weapons. It's still nice to see a variety of environments and means of fighting. Even with all of this, the film would be very little without our female roles. Artemisia is perhaps one of the best antagonists to come along in an action film in years. She's incredibly threatening and can hold her own against the greatest of warriors. While there aren't very many good lines of dialogue in this one, Artemisia has the only decent lines. Meanwhile, Queen Gorgo makes her return with a much more strong-willed attitude. These two characters open so many doors for the sequel that simply wouldn't have been possible without them.
Even though Zack Snyder continued his involvement in this story, he has given the role of the director to another filmmaker by the name of Noam Murro. There's a clear difference in direction when it comes to the performances. The depictions of many of the characters are much less aggressive, although this isn't an issue for me. Sullivan Stapleton works as Themistokles. He has an interesting presence on screen that takes a different approach to that of Gerard Butler in the role of the protagonist of the previous film. Regardless, I still found myself caring for him and wanting him to succeed. However, Eva Green is the star in the role of Artemisia. She commands the screen with such a powerful performance. You'll believe every word that she's saying as this character. Green makes this character feel like one of the biggest threats to come along in an action film in quite some time. Lena Headey does a pretty good job reprising her role as Queen Gorgo. This is yet another powerful female role that works very well. The performances themselves are effective and fitting, even though they might not be quite as fiery as you remember them being in 300.
What would 300: Rise of an Empire be without its depiction of spilling blood? If you can believe it, this is actually more violent than its predecessor. Nearly every wound spurts an abundance of blood, while the are plenty of severed limbs, decapitations, and so much more. Director Noam Murro has maintained a very similar look to Snyder's film, making for a cohesive flow of style and tone. Even though this is based upon a graphic novel, a few of the effects bothered me. Some of the CG gore pumps and water movement look incredibly fake. I can't help but feel that it would have looked better if there wasn't this much digital involvement. However, the art direction is absolutely impeccable. The CG found in the sets are much more successful, but this film truly strives with its costume design and cinematography. The costumes look absolutely marvelous and the slow-motion works on many levels here. The 3D might be converted, but the film actually has a surprising amount of depth. Even during dialogue sequences, the depth between our characters and floating pieces of ash is quite incredible. However, the technology truly excels during the battle sequences, as the depth is utilized to its full potential.
For those hoping that this will be better than its predecessor, I'm sad to say that it isn't. However, if you enjoyed 300, then you're sure to still find this to be an entertaining thrill ride. This is a brutal action film that depicts the act of war as it should. Some of the characters fall flat and the dialogue is pretty lame, but don't expect to see a well-written screenplay here. However, Eva Green's Artemisia is clearly the best thing about this film. She commands your attention and demands that you fear her. Artemisia is an awesome antagonist that makes for a real threat to our protagonist. This is a "popcorn flick" that deserves to be treated as such, so turn off your brain at the door. It's gory, well-choreographed, and entertaining. 300: Rise of an Empire will be a lot of fun for fans of the first one. If you aren't one, then you already know that this one isn't for you. Recommended.