Fun fact – I had to screen 300: Rise Of An Empire after screening Pompeii the day before. I don’t know if there’s a limit to the amount of oiled-up ancient abs one can stare at, but every last ounce of my will was tested during those two shiny, blinding days. Between this, Pompeii and The Legend Of Hercules, I’ve had enough gladiatorial fighting and battling for a lifetime, and the heavyweight throwdown between these periodic films hasn’t been a particularly memorable affair either.
300: Rise Of An Empire follows Zack Snyder’s uber-macho Spartan war story about King Leonidas and his brave group of soldiers attempting to hold off Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) army, and we pick up shortly after their defeat. Xerxes moves on and sets his eyes on Athens, aided by his ruthless naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green).
We learn of Xerxes’ backstory, his connection with Artemisia and the true motivations behind such a massive Persian attack. Additionally, we meet the man tasked with saving the major Greek city-states. Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) promotes his thought of democracy with Greece’s largest powers, but he also shows what a master tactician he is by challenging the overwhelming Persian navy headed by Artemisia. Tainting the waters a shade of red, casualties mount for both sides in the name of Xerxes, but can our ambitious Greeks prevent their Persian aggressors from leveling Athens as intended?
Early and often, Noam Murro asserts his directorial differences, as to distance himself from Zack Snyder’s first film. Where 300 felt more like a straight action flick, 300: Rise Of An Empire plays like a pulpy comic book by constantly employing slow-motion sequences full of swirling CGI blood-splashes, even moreso than Snyder did. Furthermore, where 300 was dark and gritty, Murro’s effort is more hammed-up, creating such a B-movie level of ridiculousness that one might call it a super high-tech grindhouse flick. The sequel tries to have more fun with Grecian blooodshed, raping, pillaging, and decapitating, but in doing so, the final product becomes a story about stark-raving lunatics thirsting for violence, instead of warriors fighting for honor, country and a beautiful death. Ultimately, 300: Rise Of An Empire is little more than a blurry celebration of computerized gore.
Can you blame the Persians for being so angry? I’d be furious too if my monstrous armies were being slaughtered by some bare-chested men wearing skirts! The presence of so much bare skin gives Murro plenty of opportunities to show arrows slicing flesh open, appendages being hacked off and any other deadly scenario plausible. This time around though, most of the action takes place at sea. Waves slam against flamboyant Persian vessels, dwarfing the puny Greek ships, and there’s a lot of boat ramming, slamming and short bits of hand-to-hand combat when boarding occurs. Think of 300: Rise Of An Empire as an extravagant seafaring demolition derby with an infusion of some Battlebots technology when the Persians call upon a fiery inferno. My sea legs were tested with this watch. No joke.
Something about 300: Rise Of An Empire is uncomfortably nauseating. I’ve sat through numerous 3D screenings, all of varying quality levels, but 300: Rise Of An Empire sent me home with my stomach in knots. A combination of constantly flashy action (think a gory strobe light), sea combat, breakneck pacing and unfocused filmmaking slowly churned my stomach to the point where I actually had to remove my glasses to re-focus (a momentary break, mere seconds). Please note I don’t get motion-sick and 3D movies have never bothered me, but I (briskly) walked out of 300: Rise Of An Empire with a pale face and wobbly legs – hopefully a baseless warning for everyone else.
The likes of Sullivan Stapleton and Jack O’Connell are overshadowed by Gerard Butler’s masculine manhood in 300, although it’s nice seeing O’Connell getting work after his memorable stint on the UK version of Skins. Even with Lena Heady and David Wenham returning, the only commanding presence is Eva Green’s Artemisia, a sultry goddess among mere mortals. She’s the only one who benefits from the ridiculous embodiment of 300: Rise Of An Empire, having undeniable fun playing a warlord dominatrix worthy of mass worship. Eva Green is the number one reason to see 300: Rise Of An Empire, as EVERYONE needs a little more Eva Green in their lives.
Getting down to brass tacks, 300: Rise Of An Empire feels like a hollow follow-up that was only produced to give our Spartan brothers and sisters another glorious hoorah – in a film set around an Athenian war. Director Noam Murro amps already heightened levels of masculinity and ferocious, animalistic brutality into dangerous territory – breaking the knob off and never looking back. Gorehounds are going to have an absolute eyegasm watching limbs fly and heads roll, but an over-saturation of shallow violence completely misinterprets what made 300 such a college boy sensation.
Full of grunting soldiers, chiseled Greeks, overdressed Persians and gratuitous, obsessive slaughtering, 300: Rise Of An Empire delivers exactly as expected – with a seriously lack of captivating heart. Despite one outlandishly enjoyable “fight” scene between Sullivan Stapleton and Eva Green, Murro has created a dizzying blur of swordplay, smashing and choppy waters. It’s all of the chaos of 300, with about half the stylistic grace.
300: Rise Of An Empire is a brainless, gore obsessed sequel to Zack Snyder's already brutish original, lacking the honor and heroism that our Spartan warriors previously displayed.