300: Rise of an Empire feels like scenes of all out violence and blatant gore stitched together to elicit a shock response from the audience.
Noam Murro, director of the film, has adopted the same jaw dropping visual style of 300 this time taking the action to the turbulent seas. The Athenian Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to unite all of Greece and wages a bloody war against the relentless Persian navy that ends up turning the sea red. All this takes place around the time the Spartan King Leonidas and his men stand defiantly at Thermopylae.
One of the pivotal points in the movie comes early with Themistokles’ miraculous shot that pierces King Darius’ chest with profound consequences. His bearded and black haired son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), undergoes a transformation after his father’s death that we are witness to and it fills the veins of the Commander of the Persian fleet with even greater impetus and deadly intent against Greece.
It is Artemisia (Eva Green), the vengeful and hate-driven commander of the Persian navy, who takes center stage as the Goth-dressed villain. Her past is a dark and harrowing one. One that makes her numb and insensitive to the trail of blood she has left behind and that finds her sitting beside King Darius who is pleased with her lethal exploits on his behalf. Eva Green (Vesper in Casino Royale) is vibrant in the role of an evil Amazonian-like warrior who wields not one but two vicious blades. She seems to revel in the dark characters part complete with a crazy-woman like persona filled with arrogance and lack of emotion.
The overwhelming onslaught proves to be too much for Themistokles and his rag-tag army that comprises of veterans and farmhands. Artemisia sets the sea on fire sending those lucky enough to survive scurrying for safety.
So where are the Spartans that the audience is clamoring to see? We but glimpse the tragic death of Leonidas and his loyal warriors at Thermopylae and must content ourselves for the most part with scenes of Themistokles urging the Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) to join a unified Greek effort against the onslaught of the Persian navy. While the Spartans make a suitably dramatic entrance very late in the film on impressive ships and in menacing numbers headed by a vengeful queen it is but a footnote in the movie. A pity that the Queen of Sparta and Artemisia did not clash blades with one another. Now that would have been a fight of interest.
The movie had me leaving the theater feeling a little empty. That emptiness is the vacuum left when a movie goes all out on action scenes at the expense of character development and characters that engage us, draw us in and make us root for them. Despite the somewhat charisma-less Themistokles sincere heroism he is not the magnetic Leonidas. Sullivan Stapleton does a fine job for the part he was given and is admittedly poster boy material. Sparks flew but there was no fire. I felt like a spectator in a movie whereas in the original 300 I was drawn into Leonidas’ endeavor and huddled with the Spartans as they repelled the Persian army and fought against impossible odds. Despite the grandeur and the endless battles it strangely comes across as somewhat lifeless. Part of this is no doubt due to the insipid script.
The movie does have some saving graces though. The naval battles were suitably impressive and stupendous as well as realistic enough to demand attention. Huge naval battles with ships ramming into each other and mayhem and destruction ensuing. Rodrigo Santoro makes a welcome return as the peacock-like god-king though his presence on screen does feel more like a notch or two up from a cameo. Lena Headey, Queen of Sparta, with her riveting-like presence can’t help but dominate any scene she is in. Then there is the grand elements of the scenes like the statues around King Darius’ death bed and the huge figureheads on the Persian ships.
The original 300 was an adaptation of writer/illustrator Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the legendary Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. “Rise of an Empire” is based on his next installment called “Xerxes” which has yet to be published.
While it does have it’s epic moments it is a step down from the throne of the original 300.300: It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted. Heads role, breasts are revealed, blood spurts, rape is alluded to and countless deaths depicted on the Greek seas. Grisly warfare and carnage that unashamedly mirrors real life battles.
Genre: Drama, Action
MPAA rating: R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language
Sullivan Stapleton Themistokles
Eva Green Artemisia
Lena Headey Gorgo
Rodrigo Santoro Xerxes
David Wenham Dilios
Andrew Tiernan Ephialtes
Hans Matheson Aeskylos
Director: Noam Murro
Written by: Kurt Johnstad, Frank Miller
In Theaters: March 7, 2014
Run time: 102 minutes
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