300: Rise of an Empire is the long-awaited 300 sequel that no one knew we wanted or needed. Director Noam Murro does a fine job recreating the comic-book world that made producer Zack Snyder famous, but while doing so he struggles with bringing material to the table that feels fresh and original versus copied and repetitive. 300: Rise of an Empire could have been much worse, but it also could have been much better. It’s a sequel that’s action-packed and full of blood and gore, but also a sequel that rarely tells more than what was already covered in 300 some years ago.
This isn’t a straight-forward sequel or even a prequel. 300: Rise of an Empire is a film that takes place before, during and after the events of 300, which simply means that you should probably check out 300 before Rise of an Empire, but if you don’t then you’ll still be okay, because the entire story is skimmed over and retold enough times for you to get the exact point.
This time around we follow Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he attempts to go to war with the all-powerful Xerxes and his endless army. In Xerxes’ corner is the devilish Artemisia (Eva Green), his trusted commander and the true mastermind.
Almost instantly, Rise of an Empire sets itself apart from 300 by being way too complicated. The film attempts to tell many stories in the span of an hour and a half and the result is shuffled focus that never really figures out what’s most important about the story. Should we be focused on Themistokles and his struggle with rounding up an army or is the main focus Xerxes and his rise to power? Or is this perhaps about Artemisia and her backstory?
Rise of an Empire constantly changes focus, shifting back and forth through time in hopes of covering much more ground than 300 within its compact running time. This presents many obstacles for a simple slash-and-chop action movie. For one, none of the characters matter aside from Artemisia. That’s mostly because Eva Green out acts pretty much everyone on screen and also because her character is the only one with a pulse.
Xerxes is decreased to simple background noise, while Themistokles is just a poor man’s King Leonidas. He’s no Gerard Butler and at least he never tries too hard to be.
Director Noam Murro does a fantastic job capturing the look and feel of 300. Seriously, I’m not sure how he went from Smart People to this, because Rise of an Empire is definitely a visually pleasing film that Zack Snyder can be proud of as a producer. I never thought someone would be able to recreate the world that Snyder established with the first film, but Murro does fine work turning in a film that’s loaded full of color and creativity.
But there’s also that feeling that things are being done simply to pay homage to the first one. The ramp up/slow down sequences are overbearing and tiresome after the first fifteen minutes and the poorly-rendered CGI blood spray is never a fair substitute for real gore effects. Some of the green screen characters and backdrops are a little too out-of-place and phony looking to really become engaged with, but when viewed as a comic-book adaptation I’d say that 300: Rise of an Empire mostly delivers from a visual standpoint.
The story itself is flimsy at best and offers up only small glances at other characters, but none of that becomes too distracting since Murro fills the film with lots and lots of action and violence. If anything, this film gets a hard pass because of its action and just how gorgeous Murro and his team make it look.
This is also one of those rare films that 3D almost seems necessary. There’s lots of background noise and movement to keep things active and interesting from start to finish. The action caters to the eye-popping elements, while the sets and locations help balance out depth and field of view. I just can’t imagine seeing this one in flat 2D, because Murro and his team really did a fine job making sure everything pops and feels visually engaging.
300: Rise of an Empire sports fantastic 3D, great visuals and more than enough action to keep your brain occupied. But underneath all of the flashy lightning and crackling thunder rests a sequel that’s still empty and mostly pointless. If anything, the film is a big stepping stone for director Noam Murro, who’s somehow managed to recreate the look and feel of a Zack Snyder movie. The story is still far from interesting and Eva Green‘s performance is the only thing worth getting invested in.
This film is nothing more than harmless fun for fans of the original that are craving a little more.
300: Rise of an Empire – 7/10