When I first heard that there was going to be another 300, my gut reaction was, “But they all died!” Dear viewer, don’t worry one second about that. After all, Warner Bros. wouldn’t have cobbled together 300: Rise of an Empire if the studio hadn’t been able to come up with a worthwhile reason to revisit those war-loving, glory-seizing Spartans and their magnificent six-pack abs… right? In all honesty, 300: Rise of an Empire was an inevitability after 300 left such a noticable imprint on the cinematic landscape, grossing over $450 million and producing the immortal “This is Sparta!” meme while also racking up some accolades and undoubtedly influencing filmmakers. Luckily, Noam Murro’s 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t just a worthy follow-up to the CGI-heavy bloodbath that was 300 – it actually surpasses its predecessor in one major regard.
What am I talking about? Let me introduce you to Persian military commander Artemisia, played by the slinky Eva Green as a batty, bloodthirsty dominatrix who treats swordplay like a sensual dance and caresses every nutty piece of dialogue with titillating conviction. The first 300 was a visual treat, packed to the guts with ripped Spartans slicing one another to ribbons – but with the addition of Artemisia, this sequel (it’s technically a midquel, taking place during the events of 300) elevates the viewing experience to another level. Green is a total livewire, purring and strutting her way past the movie’s male talent to emerge as a sex-kitten villainess you can both detest and absolutely, unconditionally love. The first 300 was all arterial blood sprays and gruff one-liners – thanks to Artemisia, 300: Rise of an Empire is a hell of a lot more fun.
If you can take your eyes off Green for a second (I know I couldn’t), you’ll notice that there are some new players on the scene in 300: Rise of an Empire. Though the God King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Leonidas’s wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) get glorified cameos, the main focus this time around is on Athenian naval commander Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton, whom Cinemax subscribers will recognize from Strike Back).
Unlike Leonidas, who prepared to dine in hell and was all about going out in a blaze of glory, Themistokles is a plucky strategist, someone who’s always two steps ahead of his opponents and uses that cunning to outmaneuver the invading Persian fleets at every turn. He’s all about ideals of freedom and democracy, and though Themistokles is willing to defend those ideals to the death if necessary, he’s not anywhere near as resigned to his fate as Leonidas was. Though Stapleton is never handed any lines of dialogue as memorable as “This is Sparta” or “Tonight we dine in hell,” and he’s not as adept an orator as Gerard Butler’s Leonidas, he does an admirable job of balancing Themistokles’ strong moral character with his unquenchable thirst for battle. In a movie like 300: Rise of an Empire, a lead actor doesn’t need to demonstrate deep dramatic pathos. He only really needs to scream convincingly and dazzle on the battlefield – Stapleton checks both of those boxes without a problem.
300: Rise of an Empire is a visual feast, packed with stunning, even groundbreaking battle sequences set both on land and at sea. The many attacks launched on the water are all the more impressive in their stellar choreography and cinematography – this is one great-looking movie. My jaw nearly hit the floor in certain sequences, because the feats accomplished by director Noam Murro and the film’s visual effects department are borderline Herculean. The battles are rich, gory and even elegant – some may call it hyper-stylized war-porn, but I prefer to think of it as a visual extravaganza that never give itself any limits, and as a result at times doesn’t appear to have any.
But for all the eye candy on display, nothing is as spectacular to watch as the sparks (both literal and figurative) that fly whenever Green’s Artemisia and Stapleton’s Themistokles come face to face. These are two figures made to fight each other forever, and the heat between the two actors is enough to take your breath away. When they first encounter each other, the passion for action both feel is so strong that they wind up destroying an entire room in one of the most glorious and crazy sex scenes ever committed to celluloid. And later, when the pair lock blades atop a destroyed ship, surrounded by many others but so intent on one another that they might as well be alone, and Artemisia growls, “You fight much harder than you fuck,” it feels so… right. In that moment, and a few others, 300: Rise of an Empire possesses a verve and valor that places it in the upper echelons of sword-and-sandal epics. See it for Green, and stay for the truly epic battles – this is one movie that fully lives up to its promise of guts and glory.
Warner Bros. gave 300: Rise of an Empire a mighty 1080p video transfer that is faithful to director Noam Murro’s every intention. The action sequences all look absolutely spectacular on this disc, and the hyper-stylized feel of 300: Rise of an Empire comes through completely. The arterial blood sprays are inky and appealing, the swords gleam, the waters churn and crash down on sinking ships, and every single detail is beautifully rendered. In a movie as reliant on its effects as this one, it’s relieving that there’s not a hair out of place on this transfer. It’s a completely stunning accomplishment.
The same goes for the excellent DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio Track. I often find myself craving the 7.1 on big-budget releases like this, so I’m so glad that Warner Bros. went for it and delivered such an all-around amazing audio package. Every furious battle cry, every clanging blade, every death scream and every magnificent fireball sounds incredible, and it’s all mixed together into one of the most pleasing audio tracks I’ve ever heard – and I don’t use that praise lightly. This is reference-quality stuff – the 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-Ray is a glorious listen.
The Blu-Ray for 300: Rise of an Empire, in addition to DVD and UltraViolet copies, includes a terrific array of special features, such as:
- Behind the Scenes: The 300 Effect
- 3 Days in Hell (7:08)
- Brutal Artistry (9:08)
- A New Breed of Hero (4:49)
- Taking the Battle to Sea (8:52)
- Featurette: Real Legends & Heroes (22:52)
- Featurette: Women Warriors (12:22)
- Featurette: Savage Warships (10:36)
- Behind the Scenes: Becoming a Warrior (4:39)
“3 Days in Hell” looks at how 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire are interwoven, featuring many of the same characters in different roles and working together to make one epic tale. “Brutal Artistry” focuses more on the visual stylings of 300: Rise of an Empire and how those working on the film attempted to “change the landscape” in terms of visual pizzazz by making a movie that simultaneously acknowledges the feel of 300 and takes it many steps further. It features some very striking visual art. “A New Breed of Hero” looks at the heroes of 300 and 300: Rise of an Empire, comparing and contrasting them. Themistokles has a very different set of morals than Leonidas did in the first film, and this featurette digs into how the film built him into a hero who could both stand alongside and apart from Leonidas. Finally, “Taking the Battle to Sea” explores the challenges that Murro faced in changing the setting from land to sea for 300: Rise of an Empire, and how the improved visuals helped him to design a great-looking flick. All the featurettes are terrifically put together, with insights from the director, cast and producers.
I loved “Real Legends & Heroes,” which looks at the real characters from history who play roles in the heavily stylized 300 franchise. It features lengthy and in-depth discussion of the mythology and truth present in the records that exist about ancient Greek life and warfare. That it takes a blow-by-blow approach in looking at characters and scenes means that it’s much more extensive and complete that I ever could have hoped for. History buffs will really appreciate this featurette.
“Women Warriors” reuses some footage from earlier featurettes, but it still features some interesting comments from Lena Headey and Eva Green. It looks at how both women stand as strong female figures and complement one another. It also looks at the Spartan culture, which was centered on dying in battle and finding glory in that manner.
As its name would suggest, “Savage Warships” examines Greek navy strategies, how the filmmakers worked to impress the true glory of the ships and how the Greeks adapted over time to create truly fearsome vessels of mass destruction. The naval war sequences are 300: Rise of an Empire‘s strongest visual aspect, and so this intriguing look at the ships present in them was much appreciated.
Finally, “Becoming a Warrior,” a less lengthy but still enjoyable featurette, looks at the arduous physical training that the actors all underwent to get in mighty shape for 300: Rise of an Empire. The small amount of time that the actors had to prepare for the film just heightens the respect that we as viewers should have for all the actors and for the physical trainers who worked extensively with them.
With its top-of-the-line video quality, jaw-dropping audio track and awesome array of bonus features, the 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-Ray is one of the year’s most impressive home releases thus far. What’s more, it’s a damned good movie. Eva Green is a veritable force of nature – her sexy-scary Artemisia will be a fixture on college dorm walls for years to come, I’m sure – and the visual effects on display make 300: Rise of an Empire a total treat for the senses. Seize your glory and this Blu-Ray, as soon as you can.