When it came out back in 2007, 300 was an unexpected hit with audiences. There was just one problem for Hollywood: the ending is pretty definite, making a sequel next to impossible. Seven years later, audiences get a workaround solution that’s, with one exception, mildly inferior to the original in every way, but still tolerable as popcorn fare.
300: Rise of an Empire is less a straightforward sequel to its predecessor than a parallel story. Some time is spent establishing the motives of the Persians in this film in a part of the story that predates 300, while the end of this film takes place after the end of the last one. For the most part, though, Empire focuses on a sea-set battlefield under the command of Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), attempting to unite Greece in a war against Xerxes (returning star Rodrigo Santoro) and his naval commander, Artemisia (Eva Green).
Original director Zack Snyder has other, bigger projects to work on these days, so while he has a hand in the story, he’s handed over the directing reins to Noam Murro. Snyder’s involvement is still felt, though. The blood-spattered, slow-motion aesthetic of the first film is still present in the sequel, though the approach is less fresh since it’s become a clichéd staple of this type of film over the past seven years. Because of the film’s largely water-based settings, the look is also less distinctive in its blues than the combination of bold reds and earth tones that dominated 300.
It doesn’t help that the lead character is just not fun. Gerard Butler’s turn as King Leonidas in 300 was a star-making role; his physical presence and sheer abandon in inhabiting the role (“This is Sparta!”, anyone?) helped propel the original to its success. Stapleton’s role is considerably more subdued. Themistokles is more of a politician than Leonidas, and while his process may ultimately be better than Leonidas’, it doesn’t make for a fascinating character.
Fortunately, that’s made up for by Artemisia, who’s ultimately the central villain of this film. In some ways, Artemisia twists and expands the “woman in a sea of men” role that made Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo so memorable in 300 by making a woman even more central to the story and making her the most formidable character in the film. Eva Green’s played memorable women before, both as Vesper in Casino Royale and the only salvageable part of Dark Shadows, but if anyone deserves to break out the way Butler did with 300, it’s her.
300: Rise of an Empire isn’t a film for all audiences. If you weren’t a fan of 300, you probably won’t care for this film either. If you enjoyed the first one, though, this one creates a similar experience with some new twists – some that are quite enjoyable. And yes, the male eye candy doesn’t hurt with this one either.