‘300: Rise of an Empire,’ like its namesake predecessor, is an anachronistic mythical retelling of events from the Greco-Persian War. Specifically, this time around, it follows the story of the Athenian general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), as he leads the reluctantly united Greek armies against the once mortal now god, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and the ruthless Persian navy commander Artemisia (Eva Green).
The first ‘300’ was a quotable, visual feast for the eyes. Regrettably, ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ takes a lot of what made the first film great and simply recycles it with lackluster results. While still visually stunning and chocked full of gory violence and exaggerated deaths, the sequel does little to distinguish itself from its predecessor. In fact, there is an unnecessary amount of time dedicated to showing or talking about the events of the first film, which, at times, feels more like a ploy (remember how awesome ‘300’ was?) than an essential narrative device.
The biggest difference between the two films is one of scope. ‘300’ was always an ill-fated David versus Goliath movie, which focused only on one particular event. We knew going in that the 300 Spartans were going to die before the massive Persian army. What made the film great was the mythical atmosphere of director Zack Snyder’s ancient Greece, combined with the mysterious and seemingly inhuman Persian army and their malicious leader the man-god Xerxes. Some background and lore was necessary, but it was just enough to further the story. The unexplained elements gave the film an edge that it’s, somewhat simple, plot couldn’t provide. ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ immediately sets out with a much larger task; to explain the events of the original ‘300’ within the overall Greco-Persian War and to expand the narrative from one particular battle to the conflict as a whole. Snyder’s fantastical atmosphere is still present, but, this time around, most of the mystery is done away with through lengthy flashbacks and dialogue driven explanations.
In attempting to situate the original ‘300’ within the much larger Greco-Persian War, the film has a tendency to jump around chronologically, especially in the first thirty minutes. More than half of the film actually takes place before the massacre of the 300 Spartans from the first film. This can make the overall plot a bit difficult to follow for those who aren’t paying close attention.
The events of the first film are shown to be increasingly crucial to the overall story of ‘300: Rise of an Empire,’ yet the way the film handles its relationship with its forerunner is awkward at best. As previously mentioned, numerous shots and screen time are dedicated to showing and explaining the events of ‘300’ ad nauseam. The film would be better served if it did what it set out to do, and just enveloped the original movie. A combined cut of the two films structured more chronologically would make for a much stronger story (one of the documentaries on the Blu-Ray actually has a producer make a comment to this effect). This combined epic would completely devastate the subtleties that made the original great, but this sequel has already made huge strides to do just that.
People who liked the original ‘300’ purely because of its emphasis on awe-inspiring visuals and gratuitous violence will find a lot to like in ‘300: Rise of an Empire.’ The gruesome naval battles alone are worth a watch. The plot of the new film does a lot to add to the lore of the original, but this expansion tends to muddle and conflate the overall story rather than refine it.
‘300: Rise of an Empire’ is available to purchase in stores everywhere on June 24th.
Own “300: Rise of an Empire” on Blu-ray 3D combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, 2-disc DVD special edition and Digital HD on 6/24