300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE Review

5.5

Film Pulse Score

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Release Date: March 7, 2014
Director: Noam Murro
MPAA Rating: R
Film Pulse Score: 5.5/10

I absolutely loved 300 the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.  I was lukewarm to Zack Snyder’s 2006 film adaptation.  I found it rather dull.  It had plenty of style but lacked any substance.  It was like watching someone playing a fighter video game but never letting you play.  Sure he tried to capture the look but he could never come close to matching what the reader’s mind could envision while taking in the panels from Miller’s novel.  It didn’t live up to expectations.  Now, eight years later we have 300:Rise of an Empire.  Despite the film’s claim that it is based on Frank Miller’s Xerxes, this film is an entirely original story written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad.  Miller hasn’t even finished writing Xerxes yet.  So how does it fair?  About the same but in some respects better than the first.

300: Rise of an Empire is a very ambitious follow-up to the hugely successful original.  It doesn’t serve as merely a sequel but expands the story and the world of 300.   Events in the film occur before 300, concurrently to the events of 300 and after the conclusion of 300.   It’s a prequel/sidequal/sequal all wrapped up into one.  The history that surrounds Persia’s invasion is explored and it does help provide context to both films.  Expanding the scope of the battle was one of the best things about this film.  It shows that the war against Persia wasn’t merely one battle fought by 300 but an entire nation.  However, the final act, which picks up after the first, doesn’t live up to that concluding speech and scene that ended the first 300. 

300: Rise of an Empire sees a new director at the helm.  Noam Murro, who last directed the amusing comedy Smart People,  steps in for Snyder.  A clear effort was made to maintain the look of the first film but again it suffers from style over substance.  Fortunately the combat scenes aren’t as monotonous because the theatre of war has been shifted to the sea.   The majority of the new film takes place on the ocean as warriors of Athens take on the fleet of Persia.  It is something different and in many cases pretty cool to watch.  Structurally it isn’t that different from the first as again it’s a small army versus a large one.  Murro is able to keep things moving at a good pace and is able to get some decent performances out of his actors.

Sullivan Stapleton takes the lead as the admiral of the Athens army, Themistocles.  He is quite good and actually shows more depth than Butler’s Leonidas.  You get the sense that this man is a tactician; you can see the wheel’s turning and you see the doubt when he knows he made a grave error.  Eva Green plays Artemesia in grand, over the top style that makes her portrayal of the commander of the Persian fleet quite memorable.  She revels in her character and she proves to be the best villain in the series.  Returning from the original film are Lena Headey as Queen Margo, David Wenham as Dilios and Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes.  Gerard Butler does appear but only in clips from the first film.  All three veterans have more to do in this one and the expansion of their roles and arcs is well handled.

Snyder has written a decent follow up to 300 and one can only wonder just how close or far removed it will be from Miller’s actual sequel when it’s finally completed.  It does a good job of expanding the story of the first and in many cases is more entertaining, well at least for this viewer.  Murro is pretty capable at directing an effects heavy action film and the two leads of Stapleton and Eve are part of the reasons why this one stays afloat for the most part.  Not being a fan of the first film this one ends up being just okay and more engaging.   However, it didn’t have that Frank Miller feel to it and certainly lacks any quotable lines that flowed throughout the original.  Either way, it’s more of the same but a little more expansive.