In 2006 300 was a surprise hit, with director Zach Snyder pushing the film to great heights of stylized violence and presenting a charismatic tragic hero in Leonidas, played by Gerard Butler. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300 told the story of the heroic last stand of an army of 300 Spartans against the mighty Persian invasion led by God-King Xerxes. The exuberant action, heroics, and style-above-all approach worked to create a new action classic.
Eight years later sees the release of 300: Rise of an Empire, a sequel that actually serves as prequel, parallel story, and sequel. Noam Murro takes over the director’s chair, but Zach Snyder is still very present as writer and producer. The film spans a lot of territory, starting with the origin of Xerxes the God-King and his warrior-woman Naval Commander Artemisia ( A scene stealing Eve Green). We also see the rise of our new hero, Themistocles of Athens, whose unwitting role in the rise of the Persian empire leaves him focused on the goal of uniting all of Greece to oppose the Persian invasion. Sullivan Stapleton does not give Themistocles the same level of charm that Leonidas had in the first film, but his heroics and sense of brotherhood carry though enough to keep us rooting for him. As Themistocles rallies Greece to withstand the invasion, the events of the first film unfold so while we witness the battles between Themistocles and Artemisia, Leonidas is unseen battling Xerxes to his sacrificial end. The film then continues past the events of the first film, as Themistocles seeks to rally the remaining Spartans against the might of Xerxes and Artemisia.
The choice to have the film wind in and out of the first film’s events works well, but make no mistake; it is not clever scripting that is the draw here. The amazing stylized battle scenes and hyper violence are still the focus, and they do not disappoint. Much of the action shifts to the sea, and the naval battles are thrilling. However they do become a tad repetitive after a while, and the format of Artemisia sending in generals one at a time to see how they fare against Greece while Themistocles adopts new strategies yields an almost video game type rhythm…how do we defeat the next boss level?
For the most part this is a minor quibble, and the film is much more enjoyable than you would expect for a follow-up that took eight years to develop. I saw the film in RPX 3D, and the depth effects were plentiful and effective. As blood splattered battles filled the screen, I was left with a grin. It may not attain the classic action film status of 300, but Rise of an Empire is a worthy and fun sequel.