Being the father of three children typically means that I don’t get the chance to go see a movie in the first week that it is in the theater, unless it’s made by Disney Pixar. So when Stephen said he had a free ticket to go check out 300: Rise of an Empire, I quickly texted back “Heck yes!”. 300 is one of my favorite movies, so I was very excited to get the chance to see the sequel actually IN THE THEATER. Now that I’ve actually seen it, I thought I’d share with you what I thought.
First let me say that I have a lot of mixed emotions about the film.
Story Line: 300: Rise of an Empire, while technically is a sequel, actually is portrayed as a parallel story to the original 300. You follow the story of Athenian General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he is charged with commanding the Athenian naval fleet against the the god king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his malice and vengeance filled naval commander Artemisia. I’ll admit that in the opening scenes of the movie Stephen and I were somewhat confused as to when the story took place. Let me lay it out for you…
The first scene opens with the image of the blood splattered Spartans laying defeated in a pile and King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) sprawled out dead in the middle of them. We hear a voice over of Queen Gorgo (Cercei Lanister… I mean… Lena Headly) delivering a rather uninspiring speech to what we suspect is the remaining Spartan army. We then see Xerxes approach the body of Leonidas on horseback. Xerxes takes a battle axe and decapitates Leonidas as she delivers the line ” A tidal wave of heroes blood will be had.” and we see the title screen. It then bounces to another battle that happened years earlier, before Xerxes was the god king, where Themistokles kills the Persian king and thus begins the origin story of Xerxes. After some back story on Xerxes, It then bounces to present day with Themi (there is no mention of it being present day, we just had to figure it out) being forced into an alliance with the other Greek cities that are soon to be in the path of the Persian army. Somewhere along the way you realize the story is in fact parallel to King Leonidas’ suicide mission to face the Persians and the world is much clearer. Other than that interesting, and slightly confusing, angle of telling the story it felt mostly like a copy/paste underdog sword and sandal flick. I think part of the reason for this is that the first film had The 300 graphic novel to rely heavily on, and this film was pretty much left to be delivered without the brilliance of the follow up novel Xerxes, because it hasn’t been released yet. It also could be because Zach Snyder didn’t direct on this.
Acting: Acting overall was pretty solid. Eva Green nailed the role of blood thirsty and vengeful Artemisia. Lena Hadley and Rodrigo Santoro both returned and delivered just like the first time. I think Xerxes is one of the most intimidating characters, and that has a lot to do with how Santoro protrays him (or maybe his crazy voice). The only down fall of the acting was the Aussie newcomer Sullivan Stapleton. Honestly, he did a great job. I’m still wrestling with myself on whether his performance was a lack of authority, or a lack of story telling to really give the viewer who they were watching. His character compared to Leonidas seemed very tame, but not like a purposeful “calm in a storm” tamed. I say that because there would be moments that you felt like his lines were supposed to inspire you right out of your seat, but they just fell flat and felt somewhat on repeat from the last movie. I don’t think this is the actor’s fault. In the first movie the story really set up what it meant to be a Spartan, and Leonidas’s role as the king of them. In this film we are just thrown into a battle with the lead and you only understand two things about him. He’s a risk taker, and a pretty tactical guy. You dont get the story about how he became the best of the Athenians. You also had no real back story on how he became so smart in battle. His character paled in comparison to the antagonist so much so that you almost rooted for Artemisia to defeat Greece.
Imagery: With the original 300 film, the colors and imagery left you feeling like you were watching a painting, or comic panels, come to life; a lot like Sin City did when you first saw it. With brilliant contrasts of black, gold, white, and crimson, every image could be made into art to be hung in a museum. I’m a big art guy, so this stuff is very important to me; equally as important is consistency. If you are going to make a sequel to a film like 300 it has to have the same look. The look alone is what made the first movie so enjoyable to watch. There were moments you couldn’t tell if it had been drawn or if it was live action, and I think that is just so cool. In 300: Rise of an Empire they seemed to tone that back while amping up the blood. There was a lot of blues and purples and blacks that all seem to get lost and not give you that wow factor as you watched. This may be a small thing to most, but I was let down with this.
Overall: While the movie was decent, and had some very cool hand to hand combat scenes, it just fell short of the previous title. At first looks I thought it would be a for sure hit with everyone that was on board, but in the end it didn’t feel as original as the first, and seemed to miss on what made it original to begin with. For a movie that is really about being an underdog and taking on impossible odds, I left feeling uninspired to take on the world. After the first 300 I left the theater ready to take on any obstacle, Like I had a shield come back with or die on. After 300: Rise of an Empire I just felt kind of “meh”. If I had to rate this movie on a “Rent It” to “Get Your Ass in the Theater for This One” I’d give it “If Your Friend has a Free Pass, Go See It.” If you don’t have any friends offering to take you for free, I’d just wait to see if it will come out on Redbox for a dollar.