300: Rise of an Empire is probably the strangest follow up to an iconic film. It manages to be a prequel, side story and sequel to 2006’s ever quotable 300. Its existence was announced by Legendary Pictures back in 2008 but it took until now to be released. Reasons for the delay have not been announced.
Years before the Spartans did battle, the Persians were making a previous invasion of Greece. The Persian King Darius was slain by our hero Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), but he failed to kill the son, Prince Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Xerxes, in his grief, made himself into a god-king under the influence of his naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) and declared war against Greece. Now a legend, Themistocles realizes Greece stands no chance against the Persian horde unless the divisive city-states band together. Foreseeing the impact the sacrifice of Leonidas and his 300 Spartans will have, he resolves to hold the Persian fleet at bay so that Greece can receive their martyrs and unite.
Directed by Noam Murro, on paper the plot sounds much more politically minded than the first, which focused on GLORY! However, this is all just a backdrop for why everyone is killing each other in slow motion. The special effects that made the original famous are back again but have lost their novelty with age. Even more troubling, the biggest issue is the film’s main cast. Xerxes, the gold-strung giant with inhuman vocal chords is brushed aside for Artemisia, a cunning bad ass with a thirst for Greek blood. The film succeeds in making her a sympathetic villain, who can entrance you while slitting your throat. This is all well and good, but she doesn’t look like she fits in this world. Amongst god-kings, spartans, immortals, disfigured dwarves we have an average woman wearing armor. This is the same for the rest of the movie’s production design. No new darkly imaginative beasts of the east or grotesque mutated soldiers are introduced. Themistocles suffers the worst of this as he is supposed to be both a great general and a normal man but compared to Gerard Butler’s Leonidas he looks like a Hollywood star wearing a cape.
Overall, the film looks great. The effects are amazing, the fighting choreography is top notch and mesmerizing. But if you are going in expecting to hear the next great one-liner to shout at your friends for the next two years, you will be sorely disappointed.