300: Rise of an Empire

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When I first heard that a sequel was being made of the 2006 action-epic 300, I thought, ‘Why?’ I mean, apart from Hollywood’s obvious love of sucking the marrow out of any semi-viable franchise that they can make money from, the fact is that the story of Leonidas and his group of 300 brave but doomed men had been concluded. I mean, they died.

Those 300 of the title = gone. So how could there be another 300 movie? Were there going to be another 300 men doing the similar stuff? Were the original 300 going to rise up and become some sort of zombie army? This line of thought intrigued me, but I was pursuing a personally pleasing thought rather than a realistic one.

I guess the term sequel isn’t all that appropriate in this case, as the story of 300: Rise of an Empire is separate though concurrent to the events of the original. While the outnumbered 300 do battle with the Persian army by land, a small number Athenians fight the Persians by sea.

Leading the Greeks is Themistocles (Aussie Sullivan Stapleton), a revered hero and killer of the Persian king Darius, father of self-proclaimed God-King Xerxes. At the head of the Persian armada is Artemisia (Eva Green), a beautiful but utterly deadly commander who cares for nothing but victory at all costs.

Themistocles believes that, along with the Spartans, he can unite the factions of Greece in the fight against the Persian empire, which would be the only possible way to victory for the Greeks against such a numerous a foe. But can Themistocles use his cunning as a strategist to give his meagre army even the slimmest chance against the innumerable Persian forces whilst waiting for the rest of the Greeks to make up their minds as to whether they will surrender or fight? Familiar territory.

This film is a lesser version of its predecessor in almost every way. Though the style is consistent, and there is plenty of action to keep the film from stagnation—as well as plenty of CGI blood flowing in that goopy, unnatural way—the truth is that the visuals are nowhere near as thrilling or awe-striking as in the original film. Not that 300 was a masterpiece, but it contained enough moments for an audience to really be sucked in and swept up in the might and courage of the heroes and their plight.

The heroes in 300: ROAE are unfortunately a little lack-lustre. We were given a wealth of characters to enjoy in the original film, but in the sequel our sole focus really is on Themistocles, who is a little one-dimensional. He has no real back story apart from ‘Hero’, and no growth or change. Though there is nothing wrong with Stapleton in the lead role, he’s a fine actor and physically fits the role, he does not have the commanding presence that Gerard Butler did, nor the drive to success apart from for victory’s sake.

The few subplots, such as one involving Themistocles’ lieutenant who does not want his son following him into battle, feel shoe-horned in so that there is a more human element for us to connect with. About the only thing that really connects is the score, which has shades of Terminator about it, and is heavy and engaging at points.

An above average action film thanks to the set-pieces, particularly one explosive sea battle, 300: Rise of an Empire is playing in 3D at IMAX, though the 3D isn’t could have been used to fuller effect (which is not a unique flaw). If you’re looking for mindless action masquerading as something more substantial, check it out. Plus, you get to see Eva Green’s breasts again, and they’re pretty nice.

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