After seven long years, the commercially praised 300 finally receives its prequel/coincidequel/sequel with 300: Rise of an Empire. In an attempt to reignite life back into fans with an all new cast of characters to rain chaos down on Xerxes and his Persian army, Rise of an Empire sadly does not come close to bringing the same caliber of excitement 300 had. Check out the full spoiler-free review of the film after the break.
Taking into consideration that the naval Battle of Artemisium between Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and Artemisia (Eva Green) coincides with the Battle of Thermopylae – the tale of 300 and King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) – 300: Rise of an Empire is pretty historically accurate. But of course we need to add Frank Miller’s razzle dazzle, colorful characters and monsters, thousands of buckets of CGI blood, and as much violence and sex as possible – and then add more violence on top of that. Rise of an Empire also tells the story before Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans as well as the aftermath thereof.
For a story that takes place before, during, and after the events of its predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire has a tall order to fill. And for being less than two hours, the film feels excruciatingly longer than what the time line of the narrative suggests it would be. In fact, 300 is 13 minutes longer and takes place over a shorter period of time than Rise of an Empire. What makes this movie such a monster to endure is the disconnect between uninteresting character developments sans Artemisia and the abundance of ultra violence and mayhem.
Rise of an Empire works out of the same mold 300 did whereas it stylizes violence in the most visually compelling way while incorporating as many slow motion shots as possible. If it was their ultimate goal to match the vision of Zack Snyder, but with darker tones shot in 3D, then the filmmakers have succeeded on all fronts. Moviegoers looking for that same effect won’t be disappointed by any means. Surprisingly the 3D isn’t that terrible either. The worst offender of the cinematography is the random, extreme close ups of the action and our inability to follow the scene clearly. Composer Junkie XL does a decent job at matching the heavy metal sounds of Tyler Bate’s original score from 300, so much so that it feels familiar in tone yet he is able to make it his own.
However, beyond the aesthetics, Rise of an Empire fails to create a sense of satisfaction or accomplishment through all of the cut limbs, slit throats, and bloodbaths that worked so well in 300. The stakes of Themistokles and his Athenian warriors are not conveyed as well personally as those of the Spartans. The theme of freedom throughout Greece is hammered home repeatedly by the many lackluster speeches spoken by Themistokles. Unfortunately, Stapleton lacks a certain level of confidence, swagger, and charisma that Butler had; and being physically fit only covers half of the role. It’s as if he just tried to mirror Butler’s Leonidas without trying to make the character his own.
And equipped with nipple shields, no help is given by his comrades played by Hans Matheson, Jack O’Connell, and Callan Mulvey, who have less character and personality than a head of cabbage. Unlike the Spartans, we do not get enough facts to support these men in war other than the fact that their homes are being threatened. The Athenians are all able to leave the battle whenever they would like because they are free Greeks and that message hasn’t been said enough, but they choose to stand by Themistokles’ side with little or no reasoning because YOLO, practically. Every Athenian death doesn’t really amount to much unlike the Spartans who fought to make Greece realize their stupidity.
But luckily for us, 300: Rise of an Empire has Eva Green, whom without this film would be as lifeless as Kristen Stewarts’ eyes. Green’s portrayal of Artemisia lights the screen on fire with so much energy, raw passion, and enthusiasm; she may be the only one who understands they’re in a 300 movie. Artemisia is so ruthless, cunning, sexy, and absolutely terrifying that she easily joins the ranks of some of the most feared villains in the history of cinema. Whether she uses her tactical prowess to dominate out on the high seas or in the bedroom, the power Artemisia possesses is unmatched by anyone else. Eva Green makes me believe in a world where more strong, female villains in Hollywood need to be realized.
Despite having a much larger scale and an increased budget, director Noam Murro was defeated by a lukewarm screenplay written by Zack Snyerand Kurt Jonstad, which he himself should be to blame as well as a director for not improving on the material he is given. Rise of the Empire also doesn’t work too well as a standalone film, as it often brings up many references and characters from 300 to remind us of a better time at the movies. Murro has a decent eye for action, but pays too much attention to Artemisia’s development than anyone else, making the survival of the Athenians 300: Rise of an Empire hard to care for without truly understanding them.
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Need for Speed is now playing in theaters. It was directed by Noam Murro, with a run time of 102 minutes. This film has been rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language
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