No more “This is Sparta!!!”, no more kicking into that deep pit. 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE changes the focus of the before-century heroic legend into a more common war story that simply happens to take place in Greece. We’re no longer talking about the Spartans. We’re no longer talking much about the history itself. And even no longer Zack Snyder directing (director Noam Murro helmed the project since Snyder was busy with MAN OF STEEL). Instead, everything turns into continuous battles that suddenly feature a female villain so convincingly and so sharply performed by Eva Green.
Well the thing is, 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE’s main plot happens around the same timeframe with 300. Opening narration by Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey)—in case you forgot, she’s King Leonidas’ wife—tells us that General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) of Athens is leading his army into a battle against the Persians led by King Darius (Igal Naor). The Greeks wins the battle as Themistocles killed Darius using an arrow. Darius’ son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who saw his father killed by his eyes, mourns deeply—but not for long as Artemisia (Eva Green), Darius’ commanding warrior, whispers into his ears and grows resentment in his soul. Xerxes is then sent into a cave in the middle of a desert to emerges as a villainous king who is ready to take revenge to the Athens.
The connection between 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE and 300 lies on Xerxes. The now-vengeful Xerxes leads the Persian army that King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, not appearing in this film) and his 300 Spartan army are battling against, while 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE’s focus is on the Athens and the battle against the army led by Artemisia. Interesting, isn’t it? While 300 feels so masculine, suddenly there is this female warrior called Artemisia comes out of nowhere. Would it have anything to do with Greece’s philosophical or political view itself?
It feels like Zack Snyder, who penned the screenplay with Kurt Johnstad (or we could just say, his screenwriting partner in 300—lacking Michael Gordon), do not find any necessities to re-explain the cultural or historical background of this battle of two nations. I believe you all have seen 300, right? (Or if you haven’t, you’d better see it now because you’ll understand nothing in this film without watching 300). Every part of the story is battle, war, and fight (off the shore, specifically). There are barely enriching subplots—Calisto (Jack O’Connell) and Scyllias (Callan Mulvey)’s father-son relationship didn’t even really work. It makes everything feels empty. I mean, it’s already been good if you can connect with the story (and its relation to its previous film) or if you are thrilled with the battle, but after all, you got nothing more.
And meanwhile, they find great necessities to show the blood spurting and body slicing in the middle of the fight. Yeah, those will look great on 3D, but I’m not sure if they were there to increase the tension of the battle or to simply (but blatantly) maximize the visual. Some parts went so graphic it got cut by the censorship. Hunky warriors with muscled arms and six-packed abs become a trademark you cannot fail through, so do the beautifully coreographed battle and high use of CGI. It’s only displeasing to finally realize there is no more inventive cues to make this sequel any vivid.
I think one of the reasons is there is no more a leading male hero that takes our attention. Sullivan Stapleton, who at some points looks like Michael Fassbender (am I right?), lacks of ‘charisma of an alpha-male’ that would attract us to follow his thinking. Weirdly, our attention are taken by the sudden appear of this seductive, villainous Artemisia. Eva Green pops out to be one of the female performers you should take into account when talking about female villains, especially in war genre. She’s adorable, sharp, and somehow way more terrifying than Xerxes. King Leonidas’ appearance (and famous one-lines like “This is Sparta!” or “Tonight we dine in hell!”) is indispensable by Themistocles, but Eva Green’s Artemisia takes his place all of a sudden.
What do you expect? Never make a conclusive ending to continue the success of a box-office franchise, they said. This is no trilogy, you bet. It’s all simply about war, battle, and blood. With some minor changes, lucky that everything in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is about on the same level as 300, but Zack Snyder and his team have to solidify this entirely epic story. Thus, 300 and all its future projects won’t simply be trademarked by statements “semi-nude muscled warrior” or “heavily tinted visual graphics”.
▲ Eva Green, innovative idea to put forward a female lead villain
▼ Sullivan Stapleton, continuous war and battle, unnecessary blood and on-screen violence
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE | COUNTRY USA YEAR 2014 RATING Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language RUNTIME 102 min GENRE Action, Drama, War CAST Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O'Connell WRITER Frank Miller (based on graphic novel "Xerxes"), Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad (screenplay) DIRECTOR Noam Murro MORE INFO