Release Date: March 7, 2014
Director: Noam Murro
Writer: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Frank Millier (graphic novel “Xerxes”)
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell, Andrew Tiernan, Igal Naor, Andrew Pleavin, Ben Turner, Ashraf Barhom, Christopher Sciueref, Steven Cree, Caitlin Carmichael, Jade Chynoweth, Kevin Fry, Davie Sterne, Clive Sawyer, Christopher Boyer, Fred Ochs, Price Carson, John Michael Herdon, David Pevsner
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 102 minutes
Studio: Warner Bros
Genre: Action, Drama, War
I think everyone will agree that when the first 300 hit theaters back in 2007 it was a game changer. The effects were magnificent, the action was draw dropping, and it’s one of the most quotable movies in the last decade. Also be honest with yourself. How many people do you know that pretend they’re doing a front snap kick into someone’s chest screaming, “SPARTA!!!”? Most likely a lot, and I know I did, and still do today from time to time . I just can’t help myself. I never dreamed of a sequel, and if so never thought it would come close to the original. Of course, I’m sure everyone wants to know is Rise of an Empire as great as the first, and you’ll find my opinion below. Now to me the original was simply amazing, but I was still a bit disappointed. I wanted even more fighting, especially since it ended on a charge of 40,000 free Greeks, marching to beat the arrogant ass of Xerxes and his armed forces. Now when I found out the sequel was coming, and Zack Snyder wasn’t attached as director I lost all interest. Directors change from time to time with sequels and prequels, but in my opinion (and no, I’m not always right) it’s best when the director stays consistent. So in short I just wasn’t on board. That changed a few weeks before my screening, after watching a 4 minute featurette online explaining the timeline of Rise of an Empire. It’s not a sequel, prequel, or inbetweenquel (some made up word), it’s all three, showing the events of before, during, and after the events of the original 300. After it’s viewing my interest shot through the roof. So to finally answer the question is Rise of an Empire a great film? I’m happy to say it is and I had a lot of fun. The action was beautiful and well-choreographed. The sound and score were highly notable, and the performances from the cast was an A plus, especially from the villainous creature known as Artemisia (Eva Green). But to be honest I am still a little disappointed with the perspective that was presented to me.
In the original 300 we immediately come to love Sparta and it’s Spartan warriors. They are a force to be reckoned with and nearly undefeatable. They’re lead by Kind Leonidas, who is the baddest of the bad. He’s the alpha male, the crème de la crème of manliness. You just don’t mess with him or that day will be your last. Their fighting is intense, their strategy is genius, and their only goal in life is to kill and defend what they love. How could you not be entertained by such a group of people so dedicated to their way of life? You can’t. My first issue with the sequel is there aren’t any Spartans in the film for the duration. They are actually present but not as they were in the first. So with this sequel the scale and stakes of ability is cut down. We get to know the Athenians their rivals who we meet in the first film as brawlers instead of true warriors. They’re a group of sculptors, potters, and farmers, who can do some damage with a sword if need be, but the rush to engage in battle doesn’t flow through their blood as much as it does with Spartans. Now I can appreciate a great story and a different perspective as a whole, but when you eliminate entirely the meat and potatoes of what made the original so great you’re just left with healthy vegetables. Don’t get me wrong. General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) does hold his own. When he grabs his shield and sword they all are one like an extension of himself. He’s a great leader and has the respect of his men, but he’s no Leonidas. When he makes a battle cry to ramp up his forces I’m not at all convinced he himself believes he can win.
One thing I can say is my anticipation for the birth of Xerxes and how he came to power was high. It started out great, but I feel it was short-lived and not fully explained. I feel like the writers wanted us to fill in the gaps of how a man or prince goes from a mortal to a so-called god king. How he was 10 feet tall in the original is still a mystery, but maybe that was just meant as a metaphor. His voice is clearly different from the first film and not as deep and demonic as before. That was key on just how evil and sinister like he was. The same goes for Ephialtes character (the hunchback). He’s the same actor from the original film, but his voice just didn’t sound the same and that really stood out for me. What’s surprising was Artemisia’s (Eva Green) character who stole the show. She was extremely convincing on her quest to destroy her enemies and rid the world of all memories of Greece. She was dark yet sexy, elegant but fierce. She did a fantastic job across the board as both a seductress and opponent on the battle field.
As far as the action is concerned I was smiling from ear to ear. While I could still tell the difference on who was behind the camera, director Naom Murro held his own. He had long continuous shots of a warrior planted in the ground with no wasted motion, able to maneuver round and round to whatever foe tried to attack. He even had longer shots of the battle jumping from ship to ship not breaking into cuts, and one in particular was on horseback. As far as that’s concerned I couldn’t ask for more. One nitpick with the action is while I really enjoyed the sword play, slow motion, and choreography, I felt it was a bit of a missed opportunity when the ships collided. There were too many instances where one fleet was charging another and instead of on side preparing for the charge, they’re just sitting there waiting on the impending attack. I couldn’t help but asked myself, “Why are you just looking at them coming closer to ramming you? Do you have any arrows you can fire? You had them before so where did they all go?” At times they would use their weapons, but others time they weren’t. So I was a bit confused on this decision. Also, when all the ships were on water the techniques of battle were very creative. The camera was pulled back to show the dynamic and how large the battle field was, but on a negative when it zoomed in I felt all the surrounding parties were just there to watch instead of engaging in battle. That’s nothing major though and most may not notice.
Another great element of the film was the cinematography. Just like the first film I felt like I was watching a moving painting. The contrast between Greece and Persia was apparent. When Greece was on screen the screen was bright with vivid color, and when Persia took the field it was dark, gloomy, and pale. I began to wonder how it would look when the two sides came together, and I can report it was done with razor sharp precision. A friend of mine mentions after viewing that he felt like he was drowning with the characters as they did and I couldn’t agree more.
Still what stands out for me the most was the swordplay. I just can’t get enough of that. It was simply well done and deserves high recognition. So thumbs up for those involved. The unfortunate thing is the weight is diluted when the warriors involved don’t even believe in themselves, admitting they may not be good enough for the battle to come. If you’re insecure stay your ass at home and make a pot or go farming as a few characters stated. In the original 300 they salivated for battle, with memorable quotes like, “Never give up never surrender!” or “Tonight we dine in hell”. There’s nothing remotely close to this because the Spartans, the elite warriors that we came to love in the original are not present or at least giving there all.
My issue is this. If you ended the original of 40,000 Greeks charging at the Persians towards the end, but we don’t see that aftermath of that in the sequel you feel a little bit cheated. At least that’s the case for me. Though with all that being said I still had a damn good time with the story, characters, and action. I just wanted a different perspective. A perspective of how the rest of the Spartans reacted to their leader Leonidas falling. Not just a glimpse of it. Are they mad? Do they care? What is their plan of action for revenge? Of course they must have one but it’s never shown in the film.