Blu-ray Review: 300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

300: Rise of an Empire BR CoverDistributor: Warner Home Video

BBFC Classification: 15

Director: Noam Murro

Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Callan Mulvey, Rodrigo Santoro, Peter Mensah

There were two films made during the last decade that pushed what a movie based on a graphic novel could be and, ironically, both of those films were granted sequels this year. But when a considerable amount of time has passed between a film and its follow-up is there a need to push the boundaries again or is it enough that there is some more material in a similar vein to what was so popular nearly a decade ago? In the case of Sin City and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For it seems that opinion was divided by those praising the film for sticking to the first film’s style and those lambasting it for being lazy and not doing enough; by sheer coincidence, the same could be said of 300: Rise of an Empire, the long-awaited follow-up to Zack Snyder’s impressive 2007 adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300.

The bulk of the story in 300: Rise of an Empire takes place alongside the events of the first film, where Spartan king Leonidas (Gerard Butler, shown here in flashback) and his army of 300 soldiers took on the might of Persian god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his forces. Here, Greek admiral Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton – Gangster Squad) gathers his armies to fight against Xerxes’ naval commader Artemisia (Eva Green – Sin City: A Dame to Kill For) on the oceans whilst Leonidas’ infantry troops face Xerxes on the land.

Based on Frank Miller’s Xerxes graphic novel, 300: Rise of an Empire opens with some gorgeous visuals depicting the fate of Leonidas and his army as Xerxes surveys the carnage, and immediately we’re back in the world that Zack Snyder set up in the first film. The violence has been amped up and there’s a bucketload of CGI blood being flung all over the place as we are introduced to Themistockles in the heat of battle, and herein lies the overbearing problem with 300: Rise of an Empire – Sullivan Stapleton is no Gerard Butler and Themistokles is nowhere near as endearing as Leonidas. Not that the fault lies entirely with Sullivan Stapleton as he tries hard with what he’s given but unfortunately he’s not given anything as stirring as what Gerard Butler had to work with in 300. There’s probably not a red-blooded male in the world who wouldn’t have pledged allegiance to Leonidas after watching 300 for the first time, with Gerard’s powerful and charismatic delivery of lines like “Spartans! Ready your breakfast and eat hearty… For tonight, we dine in Hell!” and “Remember this day, men, for it will be yours for all time!”; there is nothing said in this film, by Themistokles or anyone else, that you’ll want to run around yelling whilst wearing a tablecloth as a cape and swinging a sword… like some people are wont to do, apparently.

So the script isn’t up to much and our main ‘hero’ is a bit of a letdown but there are some positives other than the visuals, the best being Eva Green as Artemisia. After getting her backstory – there are a few backstories to get through in this film – and seeing her manipulation of Xerxes into transforming from mortal man into god-king, Artemisia turns out to be the one character in the film that we want to see on the screen and spend time with. Green puts everything into the role and gives by far the best performance in the film, as Artemisia fights and manipulates those around her into doing her bidding, the peak of which is her brutal sex scene with Sullivan Stapleton, where we really get to see Artimisia use her female cunning for her own ends and Green totally sells it as the hardened warrior who can turn on the charm when she needs to.

As far as the other characters go there’s nobody else who really gets or deserves our attention. The inclusion of Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes helps keep thing familiar and we do get to see how he became a god-king, but he doesn’t really get much to do other than gloat over the killing of Leonidas and then argue with Artimisia, and Lena Headey returns as Queen Gorgo for a few scenes but her appearances feel shoehorned in, even though the character and the decisions she makes should be a vital part of the plot. Other than those two we get a returning David Wenham as Dilios but again, all he does is pop up here and there to offer exposition to Themistokles and never really does anything like his trumped-up appearance at the end of the first film implies.

As you may have gathered, 300: Rise of an Empire is a disappointment in terms of matching up to its predecessor. The (lack of) presence of Gerard Butler is felt all the way through it and although they kind of acknowledge that with the character of Themistokles constantly singing the praises of Leonidas, as if to say “we know this new guy isn’t as good but he’s coming from the same place”, the heroic ‘raise-your-fist-and-yell’ element of 300 just isn’t there, making the majority of this film feel flat and quite boring. The moments that will make you pay attention are those featuring Eva Green and that’s probably not the intention that the filmmakers had, as it is Sullivan Stapleton’s image that has been plastered over most of the marketing. It’s not a total disaster and there are some scenes that look amazing but a film containing a handful of decent scenes scattered here and there doesn’t make a decent film overall, and that’s pretty much the opposite of the first film, which grabbed you from the off and didn’t let go until the end. It’s very much a dumbed-down version of what we had before and if a third instalment ever sees the light of day – which is quite likely considering how this film ends – then the filmmakers will need to up their game a bit otherwise this once innovative franchise will start to resemble the CGI Gerard Butler at the beginning of this film, i.e. dead.

300: Rise of an Empire

Special Features: Behind the Scenes – The 300 Effect featurettes.

UK Release Date: 29th September 2014

Warner Bros.UK – Website

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