Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

300 Rise of an Empire poster

I had planned on letting this one slip past unnoticed, but then a friend of mine pointed out that this movie is, technically a comic book movie. And as a movie reviewer for a comics focused website, I figured it was my duty to give it a review, so away I go with the early front runner for 2014’s Least Necessary Sequel Award.

It might be hard to remember this, now that Frank Miller has gone rather publicly insane and Zack Snyder has gone from a 2 for 2 good movie average to a 2 for 6 (seriously Zack, the hell happened?) but 300 was actually a really solid movie. It might have been a stupid movie based on stupider source material, but it worked really well as a dumb action film. 300: Rise of an Empire (unfortunately not titled 301) wants to be smarter and more thoughtful, which doesn’t work quite as well with the aesthetic. To put it pithier, 300 was a movie that was greater than the sum of its parts. 300: Rise of an Empire has much greater parts, but a lesser whole.

I referred to 300: Rise of an– look, I’m just gonna call it RoaE or we’ll be here all day. I referred to RoaE as a sequel to 300, but that’s not quite true. The events of RoaE take place before, during and after the events of 300. The plot is concerned Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian soldier who defeated and killed King Darius at the battle of Marathon, but failed to killed Xerxes and thus feels guilty when he invades. He tries to rally the Greek city states to battle against Xerxes, but they refuse to unite. So Themistocles leads a ragtag group of conscripted soldiers to Aegean Sea to try and hold the Persian fleet, led by Artemisa (Eva Green), long enough for the Spartans to die at the Hot Gates and become martyrs for the Greeks to rally around.

"MARCH TO HELM'S DEEP! LEAVE NONE AL- Sorry, had a brief out of movie experience."

“MARCH TO HELM’S DEEP! LEAVE NONE AL- Sorry, had a brief out of movie experience.”

What’s odd about this movie is that it feels like it might be something of a response or criticism to its own predecessor. The Spartans, presented as being the peak of masculinity and heroics in the first one are here presented as short-sighted brutes. It takes the original, which was male dominated to the point of homoeroticism and makes 2 of its 3 main leads women (including Lena Heady’s returning Queen Gorgo). So let’s just say if you appreciated 300‘s action style but didn’t appreciate some of it’s more negative aspects, this movie is right there with you. I’m just not sure it gels very well.

Take Themistocles for example. The movie frames him as a normal man, who rose through the ranks through strategy and brains and Sullivan Stapleton tries to give a subtle, nuanced performance, and he’s pretty good at it. I’m just not sure it fits with a movie where the reason given for why Xerxes changed from a normal man to the giant we see in the first movie is that he dipped himself in a pool of liquid evil! I did not make that up. Artemisia has a similar problem, in that her character and her backstory are sympathetic but the script calls for her to act like an unhinged barbarian madwoman, somewhere between Red Sonja and Jack Torrence. These are all interesting elements but they just don’t add up.

Her eyes really sell the crazy part right up front don't they?

Her eyes really sell the crazy part right up front don’t they?

But despite all those issues, I can’t bring myself to dislike it. It’s mostly intended as an action movie and it succeed at that if nothing else. Most of the action scenes are well put together and original (aside from an ill advised aping of the Wildfire sequence from Game of Thrones). Naval combat from this time period isn’t put to film much, and while the movie is most likely ingesting MASSIVE amounts of bulls**t to keep it interesting, I’m not sure that I care about in a movie that includes the aforementioned liquid pool of evil. And I gotta say, it’s nice to see Lena Headey actually get to be involved in the action scenes, even if the movie does end rather abruptly. Oh just as an aside, if they do make a 3rd one, someone should inform the director that the high speed style of the combat means it’s ill suited to one on one duels.

Lena here is just pissed that 300 got a sequel before Dredd. And so am I frankly.

Lena here is just pissed that 300 got a sequel before Dredd. And so am I frankly.

March has finally arrived, and with it we’re finally starting to get some worthwhile releases. Still, with Captain America just under a month off and Grand Budapest Hotel not in wide release yet, our options are still pretty barren. And while I doubt I’ll be thinking about this movie come August, right now it’s got enough good about it that I can’t really discourage you from seeing it. So if this movie sounds like your bag, have at it.

Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he’d like to inform everyone involved in the production that War Pigs is not a good song to use for an action movie.

Pros:

– good action scenes

– keeps the style and aesthetic consistent with the first

– Lena Headey is still made of pure awesome

Cons:

– still a stupid script

– inconsistent tone

– end very abruptly

Rating: 3/5

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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Elessar

Elessar is a 25 year old Alaskan born cinephile with an obsession with Nicolas Cage and a god complex. His favorite movie is Blade Runner and his least favorite is The Condemned...which probably says more about him than he wants it to.

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