If you’ve seen the 2006 surprise hit 300, you’ve basically seen 300: Rise of an Empire. This time, however, it’s not Greek King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) who is sacrificing everything for Sparta against the evil Persian god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) but Greek battle commander Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) sacrificing everything against, yes, Xerxes and the invading Persians.
300: Rise of an Empire basically takes place concurrently with the original 300 movie, where early in the film they reference Leonidas and then later observe that he was slaughtered, along with Sparta’s 300 finest warriors in the ongoing fight against those pesky Persians. But Sparta is fiercely independent and has no interest in a United Greece, even to being uninterested in joining arms to defend against the Persian hordes.
This time we learn that the gorgeous but evil Artemisia (a tough/sexy Eva Green) is the puppet master behind the transformation of mortal turned God Xerxes and it’s she who leads the massive Persian army against the Greeks, to defeat after defeat. Turns out she’s got the numbers but wily Greek Themistokles has her beat on strategy and tactics. Bummer.
I’m a big fan of writer Zack Snyder, who helps essentially first-time director Noam Murro keep the feel of the original comic-book film. Think Sin City. Think classic Sam Peckinpah. It’s all slow-motion skirmishes with waves of blood shooting towards the viewer.
Oh, and all pecs too. There’s not a single person in this film — even the misshapen dwarf — who isn’t ludicrously buff. Apparently whatever else the ancient Greeks were doing, they were all spending hours at the gym and consuming lots of steroids. Olive oil? Hummus? What is that secret ingredient?
As a fan of battle tactics (see the beautiful film Red Cliff for some really smart examples) I did enjoy seeing how Themistokles continued to outsmart Artemisia with his understanding of her tactics, her army’s weaknesses and even the weak points of the Persian ships. For her part, Artemisia finally had some smart tactics of her own in the climactic final battle, though it was a bit puzzling that it took so long for the Greeks to realize what she was doing.
Indeed, even with the silly slo-mo blood saturating half the film, the extraordinarily buff guys and the unrelentingly evil Artemisia, I rather enjoyed 300: Rise of an Empire. It’s based on a graphic novel, incredibly derivative of the original 300, and still a good time in a “made for TV with a really big special effects budget” sort of feel. And the ending definitely leaves it open for a sequel, if you can imagine yet another film in this genre.
I’ll be honest with you, 300: Rise of an Empire is not a film that will tax your intellect, even if it’s loosely based on Greek mythology. It’s just cool visually. And sometimes, perhaps, that’s enough.