You know it’s hard to believe that it has been 7 years since the film 300 was released back in 2007, it didn’t seem like it was that long ago to be honest. It was this little comic book film that basically came out of nowhere to surprisingly become a world-wide smash hit and instant pop culture phenomenon. Plus it also made both its cast and makers stars overnight (particularly Gerard Butler, Lena Heady, Michael Fassbender and director Zack Snyder, who were the ones who definitely benefited the most from it). Like all box office hit films, there were talks about possibly making a sequel to it. While I didn’t think a sequel was really necessary but I was curious to see how they would continue the story, especially in the way how the first film ended. It was a long time coming, but after seven years that sequel is finally upon us in form of 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. So was this a worthy follow-up to the awesome first film? Read on and find out!
Set around the same time as the events in 300, the film follow legendary Greek warrior Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he tries to bring the many states of Greece together so that they can have an army to fight against the invading Persian Empire, which are lead the God-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his second in command naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), who has her own personal vendetta against the Greeks. As this is going on, Themistocles also tries to get Queen Gorgo (Lena Heady) and the Spartans to join in the fight.
Before I get into my review, I should state that your enjoyment of this sequel will come down to mainly how you felt about the previous one. If you hated or didn’t care for the first film, you’ll mostly likely not like this one as well. However if you liked or loved the first film, you’ll definitely enjoy this with this one for sure. While I will admit that this sequel isn’t quite as great as the first film, but for most part it was definitely a worthy follow-up to the first one. Yes, this sequel is very a silly, cartoonish, violent, trashy and over-the-top film that plays itself more like a video game rather than a film (even more so than the first film as a matter of fact). I can understand while most people wont like it because of that but to be honest, those are reasons why I had a lot of fun with it. I liked that it full heartedly (and unapologetically) embraced all those elements while at the same time, played itself with a straight face without it ever feeling like a parody. One of the things I found interesting about the film, is that its not *really* a straight up sequel. In fact the way that the film is structured it just happens to be in parts a prequel, a prequel and even a side-quel since this story takes place before, during and after the events of the first film. It’s a interesting way to structure the film and for most part it works (although if you haven’t seen the first one, it probably will help if you watch it so you know what’s going on at certain points).
While the first film’s co-writer/director Zack Snyder didn’t come back to direct this one (he did stay on to co-write and produce it though), but new director Noam Murro (whose previous film was the indie comedy/drama SMART PEOPLE) does solid job taking over where Snyder left off. While direction isn’t quite as elegant or arty as it was in the previous one (this is definitely much more dirtier and grittier looking film), Murro still successfully replicate the tone and visual style that Snyder brought to the first film (CGI backgrounds, speed-ramping, slow motion etc.). I swear if you didn’t know that Snyder didn’t direct this one, you would think that he did. he directs all the action sequence extremely well and, believe it or not, they’re even more violent and bloodier than they were in the first film. Also I really liked most of the action sequences were set on the ocean, which I thought that made unique and interesting. I saw the film in 3D so these sequences looked really good in that format and CGI was fantastic (at times they looked better than they did in the first one).
When it comes to the cast (both new and returning), I thought they all did a solid job with their performances. While he didn’t have the same gravitas that Gerard Butler brought as “King Leonidas” in the first film, I thought that the film’s star (and fellow Aussie) Sullivan Stapleton was fine in the role of “Themistocles”. He could’ve used a little bit more development but it he still does well with what he is given. But to me that stand-out performance in the film (and the main reason why I think every one should see it) is Eva Green, who is absolutely fantastic in the role of “Artemisia”. She is electrifying every time she is onscreen and digs into her role with 110%. She brings a power, intelligence, ferociousness, coldness and sexiness to “Artemisia” that makes her compelling as a character. Plus it helps that she is very developed and her back story helps us understand why she wants to destroy Greece. Green is just brilliant int the role and it shows once again that she is one of the most underrated actors working today. If the film is a huge success, it might do the same for her and finally make her a household name like it did for Gerard Butler in the first film. Also there is a sex scene between Green and Stapleton that definitely going to be one of the most talked scenes of 2014 for sure.
In terms of negatives while it did really joyed the film overall, unfortunately I felt that lacked in couple of areas. Other than Eva Green, I didn’t find the new characters or the story as engaging or as interesting as they were in the first film. Say what you will about it but I thought the previous one did really great job at getting me invested with it’s both story and characters. It probably doesn’t help that this film is actually 10-15 minutes shorter than the first one. I think if the filmmakers had made it 10-20 minutes longer and developed the characters/story a bit more, I believe it would have been an even better film. Also while it was great to have Lena Heady, David Wenham and Rodrigo Santoro reprise their roles from the first film, I felt that they were underused. Especially Santoro since the first half goes into the back story on how his character of “Xerxes” became the God-king but after that he is basically sidelined for the rest of the film. Plus cinematography by Simon Duggan (who recently shot THE GREAT GATSBY) was visually stylish but it did look a little too dark and hazy at times (but that was most likely the look they going for in the one), the score by Junkie XL was fine if rather unremarkable, the dialogue wasn’t was quotable as it was in the first one (there’s no ‘This is Sparta!’ type of lines in this one), The 3D was fine but it wasn’t really necessary and the ending was a bit anticlimactic (but it does set-up for a third film if it ever happens).
Overall while 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is pretty flawed in a lot of ways and it wasn’t as great as it could have been, but I thought it was a still fun and kick arse time nonetheless. Like I said before if you didn’t like the first film, this sequel isn’t going to convert you and I can’t understand why some people will hate it (it’s definitely a film that’s all style, no substance). But if you’re like me and you really enjoyed the first as well, I think you’ll have fun watching this one too. Even it’s just for Eva Green, who I think is the main reason why everyone should check it out. She’s awesome in it!
– Bede Jermyn