Genre: Action and Adventure
Director: Noam Murro
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Rodrigo Santoro, David Wenham, Igal Nao, Callan Mulvey, Jack O'Connell, Andrew Tiernan
Release Date: March 7th, 2014
“Sparta’s sacrifice will be what unites us, malady ” states the Greek warrior Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) in the follow-up to the successful blood-drenched 2006 drama, 300. That predecessor ended with one army’s painful defeat and another one quickly rising to power. The new sequel— 300: Rise of an Empire— follows up on that story by focusing on Themistokles, approved another Greek general, looking to hold back and battle the invading Persians.
In a flashback that occurs years before the events of 300, we see Themistokles seeking to crush the Persian army and assassinating its leader, King Darius (Igal Naor). Darius’ allies vowed revenge on the bloodshed and then– years later–as some of the events of 300 unfold nearby, this particular prequel/sequel focuses on Themistokles and Artemisia (Eva Green), a loyal ally to Darius and a natural-born Greek whose heart belongs to Persia, preparing to destroy each other at sea.
As with its predecessor, the plot seems empty compared to the battle sequences which here dominate everything else. It isn’t enough though to gruesomely watch some men die in battle. Each vanquished man must be brutally massacred and approximately four gallons of their blood must spurt out graphically– sometimes in slow motion.
The whole premise seems to be built on the vulgarities of excess— not the excess that was brought to bright light in Baz Lurhmann’s far superior The Great Gatsby. The excess here is of the brutal nature of man— and his unnatural thirst for bloodshed. A friend compared this feature to the Saw films— a toture porn genre all of its own— but this movie seems to magnify simply the murderous aspect of war. Its running time of 102 minutes may seem relatively short but not when the same slick death sequences are doled out every few minutes.
The paternalistic nature of war— fathers and sons honoring their family in service— has always fascinated me and this feature does include that to an extent. As Calisto, Jack O’Connell tries to bring depth to his character’s longing to earn his father’s respect but such scenes are cut short by the overwhelming superficiality of the two leaders— Themistokles and Arteisia— trying to one-up each other or manipulate the other’s fall from power. Of course, when they meet these two vowed enemies fall into each other’s arms in one of this feature’s most ridiculous scenes.
Admittedly, this sequel does what it set out to do. It broadens the story and successfully intertwines its storyline with its predecessor’s. That being said though, few of the characters are compelling and the battle sequences lack depth because it’s hard to care who lives and whose blood will be poring out and needlessly splattering on the ground. And the only fleshed-out character is Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), a mere man whose powers and metallic look were developed during what seems to be a long bath. But even he loses our interest because he only plays a major role in the beginning and the end of the film. There are whole sections where he’s offscreen, possibly appearing in far better productions.
What remains onscreen— more blood and slashings than you’ll ever see in a Scream marathon— aren’t enough to hold your attention. When battle scenes are so superficial that the powers are divided into the two camps of high school basketball practice— shirts versus skins— it’s about time to bench a film.
Review by: John Hanlon