Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Reel Review - 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

In 2007, stylistic director Zack Snyder brought Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 to the big screen with moderate success. Seven years later, the side-story/sequel arrives in the form of RISE OF AN EMPIRE…which is also authored by Miller but this time does without Snyder, and the star of 300, Gerard Butler. For most movies, knowing all this backstory usually isn’t necessary, but RISE OF AN EMPIRE is one of those few exceptions.
Set during the events of 300, Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), attempts to unite Greece by repelling the invasion of the Persian armies, led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), and scorned warrior-woman Artemisia (Eva Green).

RISE OF AN EMPIRE is an impossible watch unless you’ve seen the original 300 film. Its storyline runs concurrently with the events of 300, which it references often. This is the main point of fascination with the film, and for the most part it works. It weaves in and out of the original film nicely, and the references never come across as a distraction. Besides that, the film is basically a carbon-copy of its predecessor plot-wise; a small army fending off an invasion of superior forces, with the only difference being the battles take place at sea instead of a battlefield. For the most part it works, but where EMPIRE falls short is in its characters. Every hero-character is one-dimensional, unlikable, and not very exciting. For a film with so much blood, it doesn’t show much heart…and it’s easy to forget exactly what all the fighting is for.
There is still a lot to enjoy in RISE OF AN EMPIRE. New director Noam Murro copies the directing of the original film nicely. Battle scenes are loaded with slo-mo bloodspill, decapitations, and hacking-off of limbs. The battles at sea are stunning to see, fun to watch, and easy to follow. There is no overuse of the goddamn shaky-cam technique, and the constant war-drums in the soundtrack really get the pulse pounding.

Acting is a mixed bag. Sullivan Stapleton is a bore; he shows no charisma whatsoever and has to be the most unlikeable hero ever. On the opposite end, Eva Green is spectacular in her first role as a lead villain. She is sexy and mesmerizing, and she commands the screen everytime she appears. Lena Heady reprises her role as Queen Gorgo of Sparta, and is her usual excellent self. The rest of the cast, made up mostly of unknowns, comes and goes too quickly to care about or to make an impression.
The finale arrives after a million gallons of blood is spilt and leaves the door wide-open for another film. RISE OF AN EMPIRE doesn’t top or draw equal to its predecessor, but it’s still a fun and decent experience with its excellent visuals and well-executed battle scenes. It just needed to spend less time spilling blood and more time on its characters. With all of its reliance on its predecessor, it doesn't work as a stand-alone film, but its clear that it never intended to be.


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