Rise of an Empire isn’t really a sequel or a prequel to the original 300; it is is both, and more. If you actually paid attention to the dialogue in the first movie, you may have picked up something about Athens opposing the Persian empire, a hint that the events of 300 were only a small part of a much larger story – a story that Rise of an Empire aims to tell.
Taking center-stage in this movie are, surprise surprise, not Spartans, but a ragtag group of Athenian soldiers, led by a man named Themistocles, played by little-known Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton. Reprising her role from the first movie is Lena Headey, who plays Queen Gorgo of Sparta, now a widow after the events of the first movie, and thirsty for revenge.
Also returning from the first movie is the fabulous god-king of Persia, King Xerxes, played by Rodrigo Santoro. However, his screen time as the Big Bad is mostly taken over here by Artemisia, a conniving, bloodthirsty femme-fatale who acts as Xerxes’ Chief of Navy. She is portrayed by French actress Eva Green, last seen on the big screen canoodling with James Bond in Casino Royale.
If you were a fan of the visual style of 300, you will not be disappointed here. The gritty, highly saturated, surreal visuals of the original make a triumphant return in Rise of an Empire. Expect to see a lot less sunlight here though. Rise largely abandons the sun-baked cliff environments of its predecessor for stormy seas, as most of the battles here are naval in nature.
The question on most of your minds, of course, is whether Rise of an Empire is as good, or better, than the original. The answer to that, sadly, is no.
Rise of an Empire’s failings as a sequel stem largely from it missing the point of the original. I loved the original 300 not because it was a thoughtful movie, but rather for the fact that it never took itself seriously. It recognized its core audience as people who wanted to sit and down and watch bad guys get hacked to death with swords and spears in slow-mo, and accomplished that very well indeed. It was all brawn and no brains, but that was okay, because the brawn it had was really impressive.
What you get in Rise of an Empire is still the same movie, except now it tries to be smarter than it really is. About thirty minutes into the movie, you’ll begin to notice a lot more dialogue than in 300, and none of it is very thoughtful or intelligent at all.
Instead, all you get are a bunch of clichéd lines spoken by stock, one-dimensional characters. I hardly cared about the Athenians – I didn’t even remember any of their names, aside from Themistocles, who is the main character. While watching the movie, I mentally referred to the secondary Athenian characters as Bearded Guy 1, Bearded Guy 2, and Bearded Guy 2’s Son.
The only character in Rise of an Empire who is even worth watching is Artemesia, and she is the film’s main antagonist. You have to give credit to Eva Green’s screen presence – in her interactions with the largely-male cast you get the sense that she could kill and eat them at any moment, and not necessarily in that order.
In an early scene of Rise of an Empire, Themistocles visits Sparta to seek their aid in fighting the Persians. What Queen Gorgo says to him largely sums up my opinion of the film:
“You’ve come a long way to stroke your c*** while watching real men train.”
If you want to watch real men, go watch the original 300.
Photos: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures