The best part of the first “300” was the stylized fight scenes. The worst part, by far, was any time a character said anything. Not much has changed in the seven years between these films. The dialogue is no better, but unlike its predecessor, this film requires longer explanations to set the stage for battle and suffers as a result.
Based on Frank Miller’s latest graphic novel Xerxes and told in the breathtaking visual style of the blockbuster “300,” this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh battlefield-on the sea-as Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war. “300: Rise of an Empire” pits Themistokles against the massive invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), and Artemisia (Eva Green), vengeful commander of the Persian navy. (Synopsis by Warner Bros.)
Let’s start with the high points: the action is still top notch and fully enjoyable, in an arm-deep-in-the-popcorn-bucket kind of way. It’s brutal, entertaining to watch, and endless in its creativity. The source material gives the movie many advantages in this department, but the film does strive to be true to that source. Points are also awarded for (loose) use of historical backdrops and for tying the two films together, with the sequel playing out as a back story to the first film. As terrible as the dialogue-driven plot is, it feels as if this wasn’t just an excuse to make a sequel. Effort is put in to make the pieces fit and connect the two for the audience.
That said, you’ve seen this film already. There isn’t anything new here; just different violence. The illusion of using a female lead to distract from the endless parade of graphically enhanced male torsos is little more than a gimmick. We’re here to see Spartans (ok, Greeks this time around) slam weapons into each other. It doesn’t matter who the players are or what the purpose of the action is—all that is distraction from the real show: the carnage.
Speaking of distractions, it is hard to be entirely sold on the 3D. Murro uses it to build a lot of texture and depth into the artistic shots. Where he loses it is during the fight scenes; there’s too much blood is flying around while the camera is whipping back and forth. Add 3D to that and you have no idea what is going on. Plus, every scene does not need to have some sort of floaty thing (ashes, seed pods, whatever) in the foreground. Just because you can add depth, doesn’t mean you should add depth.
The lowest points are any time (I counted at least three) a character makes a passionate speech to his comrades to get morale up. When you are dealing with writing this bad, one time is too many. What made the first movie passable is that it got past all the dialogue quickly and moved on to the action. The writing isn’t any better here, there is just more of it. It slows the whole film down to a crawl while the audience waits for the inevitable action to start back up. Nonetheless, “300: Rise of an Empire” is better than expected, and if you don’t go into it with expectations any higher than for the predecessor, you won’t be disappointed.
“See It/ Rent It/ Skip It”: Rent it. Nothing new. Try not to laugh when Jack O’Connell does his Kiss impression during the last battle. That face paint is straight Ace Frehley, kid.
TWO STARS out of four.
Directed by Noam Murro
Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity, and some language.
Runtime: 1 hr. 43 min