When Zack Snyder’s 300 stormed our screens in 2007, it was a uniquely stylised action film, impressively bringing the pages of Frank Miller’s dark comic book series to life by telling the story of the Spartan King Leonidas’ fatalistic stand against the Persian King Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae. Seven years later, and we are finally being treated to a sequel in the form of 300: Rise of an Empire, this time with Snyder leaving the director’s chair to be filled by the relatively unknown Noam Murro. With the potent blend of visual styling, mythology, and machismo that drove the first300 already well-established, the time seems ripe for 300: Rise of an Empire to offer us something new.
Focused on the story of Athenian commander Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), 300: Rise of an Empire forms a parallel narrative that overlaps the events covered in the first film. As Leonidas andthe Spartans are busy facing insurmountable odds, Themistokles is faced with the equally dauntingtask of defending Athens against the naval wing of Xerxes’s invasion, led by Artemisia (Eva Green).
Green excels in her role as the literally blood-hungry general, who is the real power behind Xerxes’ throne. But while Stapleton tries, Themistokles is never convincing or compelling, though much of that failure seems to rest on the fact that Themistokles is written as a particularly vanilla character –especially in comparison to Gerard Butler’s off-screen but very much in-memory Leonidas.
While the original 300 featured regular violence, the sequel takes things to a completely different level. In the seven years between the films we have seen releases that push the boundaries of howviolent action is used in film. 2011’s The Raid showed how choreographed martial arts could be reinvigorated and used in mind-blowing ways, and 2012’s Dredd utilised technological advances to impressive affect (while also making much better use of Lena Heady).
Unflinchingly visceral from the outset, 300: Rise of an Empire makes clear that it is a film that will be focused on violent action and for a short while, the action is impressive. But the incessant exposure to slow-motion blood-drenched deaths very quickly leads to tedium. There may be rivers of blood but there’s very little depth, and no novelty. It quickly becomes apparent that there is just not enough going on in terms of plot to maintain interest, and excessive violence and nudity are relied on in an attempt to carry the film. While that’s a recipe that means the film is bound to find success with a certain demographic, it is disappointing when you consider how things might have played out with a stronger story, considering how the original 300 managed to be innovative, impressive, and above all else, interesting.
300: Rise of an Empire is one to watch at your own peril. At its highest points it manages to be a mediocre action film, but its more frequent lower points may lead you to feel as if your intellectual capacity is being actively diminished.
Published in Gazette Group titles (Dublin City Gazette, Swords Gazette, Blanchardstown Gazette, Dundrum Gazette, Dun Laoghaire Gazette, Lucan Gazette, Clondalkin Gazette) on 6th March 2014.