When the first 300 hit theaters I was rather skeptical about it; thankfully it turned out to be a fantastic action film and, in my opinion, a future classic. It helped establish Zack Snyder as a viable and worthwhile visual director, who of course now is taking on the mammoth sequel, Batman vs. Superman. Now, eight years later, the inevitable sequel has arrived and while I wouldn’t say it’s as good as its predecessor, Rise of an Empire is a fun and commendable successor. It has the expected aspects like gratuitous blood-laden violence, plenty of nudity to satisfy everyone, and the unique visual styling of the first is brought back tenfold. This is quite simply a visceral and fierce action extravaganza that only aims to entertain; it is my belief that in this light it succeeded. It does, however, have its weaknesses.
The story this time around seems much weaker and a bit contradictive to the first film. In the original, the Spartans are the warriors that all strive to be but are never matched. In this adventure, everyone – men who are supposedly nothing more than poets and carpenters – have this superhuman ability that could challenge any Spartan warrior. We are led to believe that Spartans are the epitome of perfection and yet here we have these battle virgins who somehow have no equal. It doesn’t add up. Then there is this story of a father and son who fight side by side, but one of them ends up dying so the other must fight on despite the tragedy. Sound familiar? This exact scenario was a big part in the first film too. It felt too rehashed to carry any weight. It just didn’t matter.
Then there are the villains. We are introduced to Artemisia (Eva Green) who we discover was the catalyst for all of the events of the first film. She is the one who spoke the words in Xerxes’ ear that sparked a war for the ages. While she is a very cool character, it felt as though she was created to make way for further sequels down the line. It was a way that the good guys could triumph over evil but allow for evil to continue on. I understand she is a part of Greek mythology, but she became the main focus over Xerxes. This was originally advertised as the rise of Xerxes, and I guess it still is, but he ends up being more of a secondary character who follows Artemisia’s orders. A God-king, as he calls himself, taking orders and direction from his second in command, it doesn’t exactly make sense. And the speeches… there is a speech every five minutes! It feels like, and it starts to become, a bit redundant come the third act. These are just some complaints I have, but in the end I had a damn good time watching these sword wielding psychos massacre one another for nearly the entire run time. Sometimes, a mindless actioner is exactly what I need.
As the Spartans make their way to the Hot Gates, Greek General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) fights to bring a united Greece to face this foe who demands nothing less than slavery and death. The coward politicians want to tuck their tails in and strike a treaty with Xerxes. Themistokles knows there will be no compromise from this tyrant and his naval commander, Artemisia, who is hell bent on vengeance for past events committed against them. Backed by poets and artists and very few hardened warriors, the free men of Greece have made the choice to fight, and much like the Spartans of the Hot Gates, they hope to spark a wave of Greek might that will come to strike down this evil autocrat. The sacrifices are plentiful and the weight of his decisions begins to bog Themistokles down. He starts questioning if this fight is worth all the lives lost, but he always replaces his doubt with one simple truth, fight now and risk death or live as slaves.
It’s silly, over acted and implausible but I think this is expected. You have to turn your bullshit meter off and just try to have some fun watching this popcorn action flick. It’s not trying to be more than it is and I think this is its greatest strength; it knows it’s over -the- top, CGI spewing out of every orifice and it is fine with that. The fighting scenes, specifically the choreography, is on par with the first… showcasing smooth and articulated fighting that just looks so badass in slow motion. Oh yeah, slow motion; there is plenty to really make sure you see enough severed heads flying, legs and arms separated or blood spurting across the screen. I saw this in 3D but it isn’t necessary to fully enjoy it. In fact I found it to be more of a distraction than anything. The first is still quoted and talked about, this one I don’t see being remembered as much. To sum it all up; if you enjoyed the first, give this a chance but don’t expect the same kind of magic that the first brought.
Rated R For: strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language
Run Time: 102 minutes
After Credits Scene: None
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, Callan Mulvey
Directed By: Noam Murro
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 3/ Acting: 3/ Directing: 3.5/ Visuals: 4.5
OVERALL: 3.5 Nerdskulls
Check out the trailer below:
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