By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
The decision to make this follow up to Zach Snyder’s first film much more than a “Picks up where they left off” sequel makes this movie a richer and fuller installment than I was expecting. As a fan of 300 and Zach Snyder’s incredible visual style that brought Frank Miller’s graphic novel to life, I had somewhat mixed expectations when I first heard that Snyder would not direct and serve as a writer and producer. For those feeling those same qualms about this film, do not fear. Snyder’s style endures, thanks to the direction of Noam Murro.
As I stated above, this movie actually does more than portray the events follow the tragic Battle of Thermopylae. It takes the audience on a journey through events taking place before, during and after those of the first film. Prior to the second Persian invasion of Greece the Prince Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), under the guidance of his stepsister Artemisia (Eva Green), inherits his father’s throne and gets a supernatural makeover giving him a godlike presence. Xerxes orders a second invasion of Greece with troops facing the doomed 300 Spartans while Artemisia leads the Persian navy against the Athenian Themistocles and his army consisting of Athenians and volunteers from other Greek city states. Though these soldiers are not born and bred to fight and die as the Spartans, they have a brilliant warrior and strategist in Themistocles, who proves himself as a worthy adversary to the wickedly cold and calculating Artemisia.
Though not quite as well written and directed as the first film, 300: Rise of an Empire works well as a companion piece, which is more than I can say about lots of sequels. Larger in scope, the filmmakers are more ambitious in their attempts to tell a more epic tale than that of the first installment which focuses only on Sparta and their war against the massive Persian invasion. In this attempt, though, the film does have some parts which lag a bit, but the overall experience is highly enjoyable.
Noam Murro (probably under the tutelage of Snyder) and the technical crew do some fine work emulating Snyder’s visual style, including the use of slow motion and other editing techniques. This installment has a bit more color to it than the first 300–especially noticeable in the bright red blood that flows quite generously–but still feels rooted in the same world. Most movie audiences will have the option to watch the film in IMAX 3D. I enjoyed watching it on a mini – IMAX screen, but must say that the 3D effects added little.
What did greatly add to the story is the presence of Eva Green who portrays the wickedly sexy warrior woman Artemisia. Not only easy on the eyes, Green is captivating as the villainous manipulator pulling the strings of Xerxes to accomplish her fiendish ambitions. Though often cold and calculating in her work, Artemisia can turn up the heat when necessary to seduce weak men to do her bidding. Green pulls all of this off wonderfully.
As the skillful Athenian leader Themistocles, Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom) offers a solid turn in this role. His character may be a more rational and thoughtful strategist than Sparta’s King Leonidas, but is not quite as exciting or passionate on the screen. Butler’s Leonidas may have been a mad warrior, but I have to say his presence and character is a much more thrilling leader. Returning from the first film are Lena Headley as Sparta’s Queen Gorgo, Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes, and David Wenham as Dilios. These returning cast members also offer strong performances, particularly Santoro who gets to expand his role here, portraying Xerxes before his transformation and ascension to the throne.
Will only two feature films under his belt, Noam Murro could possibly ascend in the directorial ranks, as he will hopefully gain more recognition with this movie. Although his work here emulates that of Zach Snyder, he might just be given the chance to prove himself with more work which might allow him to develop a style of his own. The fact that he was able to make a Zach Snyder movie without Snyder directing, came as a relief to me as I wanted to feel transported back to this highly stylized and romanticized world of Greek and Persian warriors battling for power that was firmly established with the first film. Fans of 300 should enjoy this fun and thrilling sequel, but those who find its stylized presentation gaudy and distasteful should probably stay away.