Taking over the helm from the departing Zack Snyder (who stays on as writer/producer) – Noam Murro steps into the director’s chair, as we delve into the 300 franchise for the first time in eight years, with 300: Rise of an Empire. Much like the first, what this historical thriller lacks in story it certainly makes up for with intense, prolonged action sequences.
Rodrigo Santoro plays god-king Xerzes, who, alongside the beguiling warrior Artemisia (Eva Green) set the Persian navy on the city of Athens. In order to combat the forthcoming attack, Admiral Themistoklesis, played by Sullivan Stapleton, is forced to swallow his pride and allow Sparta to join forces with their long-established allies, and do all they can to protect Greece and defeat the seemingly infallible Persian army once and for all.
Much like the preceding endeavour, Rise of an Empire is made up, predominantly, of moments of intense staring, and brooding looks into the distance. Mix that with various overstated fight scenes, and you’re left with a film devoid of plot which grows increasingly tedious as we approach the latter stages. The film looks the part, though, remaining faithful to the film’s graphic novel origins, in what is a truly stylistic offering. Nonetheless, a lack of a true protagonist proves to be detrimental, as where Gerard Butler shone in the first film, carrying the film well as the ultimate anti-hero, Stapleton struggles to command quite that same level of authority. He’s by no means a bad actor, but he doesn’t have that same charisma and sovereignty needed for this particular role. Instead, the best scenes lie with Green’s Artemisia, though for a strong-willed, powerful female role, any such good work is devalued instantly when needless sex scenes and gratuitous nudity is thrown into the mix.
It’s difficult to leave Rise of an Empire feeling too downbeat, as though undoubtedly a flawed piece of cinema, it’s true to what the first film offered; and while not quite as accomplished, it shares that same spirit and vehemence that makes this franchise one that’s relatively watchable. So, if you were a fan of the original, then it’s likely you’ll be on board for the sequel too. If you weren’t a fan, however, then be sure to stay clear of this one.