Movie Review: '300: Rise of an Empire' (2014)

It has been 7 years since the original “300” burst onto screens becoming a surprise box office smash that would launch the career of its star Gerard Butler into the A-List along with director Zack Snyder and popularize a production model where CGI imagery composed the majority of an epic's visual surroundings. For years since its debut, the rippling shockwaves of its pop culture impact has been substantial.

Spurring copycats galore in its wake (just this year the latest “Hercules” film featured similar graphics) the original “300” has not been upstaged by any of its imitators, the novelty of the original continuing to cast a superior shadow. With all of that said, the only film that could potentially equal it was its sequel or so you would think.

Returning to the gory aftermath of the doomed 300 Spartans, “Rise of an Empire” follows an interconnecting storyline that runs parallel to the timeline of the original. In this film, the action centers on Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and Artemisia I of Caria (Eva Green) as the two take their battle for Greece to the water, facing off in naval duels.

Transporting the audience from the desert landscape of its predecessor into the nautical fury of the sea is a move that visually pays off. It’s a welcomed change of pace that guides the story into a mental game of strategy, making brute force not the only war measure depicted.

The problem is the film doesn’t focus enough on the psychological warfare, instead relying on the bloody exploits of sword thrashing, body hacking madness. How many times can a splatter of blood spraying across the screen be considered entertainment? The gruesome overkill is used at such a noxious rate that after its first appearance, the shock wears off and annoyance quickly takes its place. 

Another wearisome antic that bogs down the film is the overzealous utilization of slow-motion during battle sequences. Just as the rhythm of the fight begins to find its swing, the action is unnaturally paused to focus on the twisted faces of the soldiers charging one another. The flow becomes completely stilted; a start and stop that keeps the oft-times balletic elements of fight choreography to venture into an abrupt standstill.

The character the audience is supposed to root for, Themistocles is beyond grating. The “hero” supposedly advocates for democracy by championing a killing machine that does everything except espouse freedom. The character of Artemisia is much more compelling. Her tragic backstory creates a ready empathy, and Eva Green’s portrayal makes it clear she is not a maniacally evil person for no reason, she’s one consumed by revenge.

The cinematography is still fascinating to look at, hues of dark red and luminous gold, provide a steady stream of visual eye candy. The camera cleverly repurposes dust particles that flow through the air to appear as stardust, a mystical pleasantry.

The 3-D IMAX experience is visually immersive and pulls one into the cinematic atmosphere with heightened success. The score is also engrossing with epic grandeur to spare.

Eva Green saves the film from completely sliding into acting oblivion. Her wild-eyed turn as Artemisia is everything a fierce woman warrior should be. Calculating, driven and in complete control of her sensual prowess. Green, as always, brings her adept skill for playing tough female characters with an unbridled feminine flair that never mistakes masculinity for raw womanly power.

In a current film-scape where female characters who kick-ass do so by taking on male characteristics, Green’s performance is of landmark importance because it demonstrates the ability for a woman to be a force to be reckoned with as a woman.

The male cast pales in comparison to Green’s ferocity. Blatantly overpowered is star Sullivan Stapleton, who struggles in the lead role. The supporting cast does not fare any better and here you realize the magic “300” struck when it cast Gerard Butler as its lead, as his performance was key to charging up the supporting cast.

Getting closer to Butler’s persona was not impossible though. Why “True Blood” star Joe Manganiello, for instance, cannot be cast in a sword-and-sandal epic is beyond puzzling.

The film’s potential is only partially realized most of the time. It is burdened with cinematic touches that drag and a lead character that bores, it simply doesn’t gain enough momentum to obtain traction. The grisly violence serves as an over-the-top distraction that grotesquely cloaks a bland male cast.

Where the film succeeds is in giving star Eva Green a chance to throw down the gauntlet with the most ferocious theatrical turn by an actress, so far this year. “Rise of an Empire” is a worthy sequel to “300”, it just falls on its sword a little more than a Spartan would tolerate. Rating: 7/10

2 comments

  1. I saw the original 300 which I enjoyed. I plan to wait for the DVD to come out for this one. Britt you writing superb, I really appreciate your description of the movie.

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  2. Michael / The Q FilmcastMarch 14, 2014

    Like those you describe in your review, you also cut thru it all and deliver. Very well written! I've enjoyed reading these recent reviews with my cup of this morning. I really loved the original 300, my compass has been telling me to pass on this recent rendition - would rather keep my soft spot for the first one intact.

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