March 10, 2014 by Vinnie Leduc
Has it really been seven years since 300 grossed nearly half a billion dollars, made millions of men feel fat, spawned copycats mimicking its brutal and then-novel slow-motion combat, and ignited the careers of Zack Snyder, Gerard Butler, and Michael Fassbender?
After making appearances on our last two lists of most anticipated movies, 300: Rise of an Empire is finally here to fill us in on related events before, during, and after King Leonidas’ glorious last stand for freedom.
The step back from the Spartans’ first fight to reveal the scope of Greece’s war against Persia may be a step down compared to the massively popular original, but it’s still a bloody entertaining spectacle.
The biggest reason why is the new villainess Artemisia, a slithery naval commander played fantastically and unforgettably by a fearless Eva Green. If you thought Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgos was a strong female character in 300, wait until you witness the delightfully devilish fire that is Artemisia.
Similar to how Queen Gorgos essentially ruled Sparta as the ultimate authority with Leonidas as the booming figurehead, Artemisia is the puppet master behind Persian god-king Xerxes. We get some fascinating looks at both Artemisia’s and Xerxes’ origins, but Eva Green steals the entire show and absolutely owns Rise of an Empire.
The movie’s aspects that have been heavily advertised, the trademark visual style and action scenes, do not disappoint. We’ve seen some stunning sequences in many films since the first 300, and while the ones in Rise of an Empire don’t seem as fresh as before, they’re still pretty sweet. A couple of them would’ve raised the bar if it hadn’t been so high already.
The in-your-face 3D is some of the best for a live action film, and along with that of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, which opened here on the same day, will be among the best overall of the year by December. If you don’t see this in IMAX 3D, at least catch it in 3D.
I imagine that some people will point out that some of the heavy CGI, particularly the blood gushes, look too fake, but after rewatching the first 300 before this, I can tell you that those effects in the original were actually much worse and were probably overlooked due to the novelty of the presentation style at the time.
What can’t be overlooked in Rise of an Empire is the lack of drama and revenge outside of the tale of Artemisia. A major contributing factor is the overall relative weakness of Athenian general Themistocles, the main character played by Sullivan Stapleton. His backstory is empty, his inspirational speeches are boring, and his presence pales in comparison to Leonidas’. I’ll be very surprised if Rise of an Empire does for Sullivan Stapleton what 300 did for Gerard Butler.
As for all the talk about the political commentary on foreign affairs and the portrayal of the Persians, I’m going to stay away from that noise. This is not a history lesson. This is not controversial. Madness? This. Is. NOT Sparta. But it gets kinda close. 300: Rise of an Empire gets 3.5 out of 5 stars.