Did anybody really want a sequel to Zack Snyder’s 300? Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, the highly stylized film turned into a surprise smash and kind of, sort of, but not really turned Gerard Butler into a star. But it was a self-contained film. The 300 Spartans were dead by the end of the movie. The story didn’t leave room for a sequel…or did it?
300: Rise of an Empire is part prequel, part sequel. Most of the film takes place during the same time as its predecessor, when the 300 Spartans were trying to hold off the Persian army at Thermopylae. A few actors from the original return, including Lena Headey, David Wenham and Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes. Oh! That humpback guy is also back.
Rise of an Empire does a nifty job is weaving its story into the original 300. Remember that massive Persian navy the Spartans came across in the first film? This 300 focuses on the Athenians fighting that very navy, mashing up a few real naval battles for the story. The rest of Rise of an Empire explores Persian emperor Xerxes’s rise to power, from grief-stricken son to God-King, though that’s such a small part of the film, it makes the title a bit of a head scratcher. The Persian empire has already risen, and it wants Greece as a prize.
With the exception of taking place on water, this new 300 is pretty much a carbon copy of the original, except there’s no Gerard Butler. The sequel even has some of the same plot elements. There’s the crafty leader of an overmatched Greek army (Themistocles), a father-son relationship about becoming a man in battle, some ridiulous sex and even a lot of the same conversations. The only real differences are new lead Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom), who can’t quite fill the void left by Butler, and Artemisia, the leader of the Persian navy, played by the sumptuous Eva Green. But nobody goes to see a movie like 300: Rise of an Empire for the story or the clunky dialogue. It’s all about the visuals and the pretty blood splatter.
The movie is full of gorgeous images, even though director Noam Murro (taking the reins from Snyder), making his big studio debut, lays the CGI on a little thick at times. Murro, whose only other directing credit is the 2008 indie “Smart People,” clearly enjoys having a big budget to play with. Every scene on land features burning ash floating around for no real reason, other than it looks cool. Every time the action is at sea, it’s raining. The fighting is still full of orgasmic bursts of blood, but only eight years after 300, it no longer feels visionary, just ho-hum. Much like Snyder’s Man of Steel, a lot of the action feels like some sort of computer generated exploitation film, meant to dull the senses, not arouse them.
300: Rise of an Empire isn’t a complete waste of time, but the sequel just doesn’t offer anything really different from the original, and after the first naval battle, the same shtick wears thin pretty quick. Most sequels go big or go home, but Rise of an Empire offers more of the same. Just on water.