After Robert Rodriguez successfully adapted Frank Miller’s Sin City on the film canvas in a visually groundbreaking style which dazzled the critics & viewers alike, Zack Snyder stepped into his shoes in 2007 by bringing on screen a heavily stylised adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. With its heavy use of slow-motion shots, memorable one-liners, stunning production design, pioneering visuals & riding on show-stealing performance by Gerard Butler, 300 took over the screen like an invading horde & enthralled everyone with its visually arresting tale of bravery, courage & patriotism despite its absurdity. Seven years later, 300: Rise of an Empire arrives as a follow-up chapter aiming to bank on the success of its predecessor by applying the same formula. The question is, does it succeed? The answer is a plain & simple NO.
Acting as a prequel, sequel & parallel story at the same time, 300: Rise of an Empire covers the events happening before, during & after the story depicted in 300. The prequel depicts the Battle of Marathon in which the then king of Persia & father of Xerxes was killed by General Themistocles of Athens & covers the transformation Xerxes then undergoes to finally emerge as the “God-King”. The parallel story takes the ongoing battle between Greeks & Persians to the sea where we see Themistocles trying to unite all of Greece against one common enemy. And the sequel part deals with him pitted against the massive invading Persian naval forces led by Artemisia; the vengeful commander of the Persian navy who was born Greek but defected to Persia after her family was slaughtered & she was sexually abused for years by Greek hoplites who then left her for dead in the streets before a Persian messenger took her in & trained her for revenge.
Even after digitally painting the film to resemble the unique look of the original, making heavy use of the same slow-motion shots & bringing more action, gore & blood on the screen, Rise of an Empire still feels like an empty exercise because despite getting the technical executions right to some extent, it ends up completely ignoring the very basic reason that made its predecessor an instant classic. Snyder’s 300 featured an engrossing tale, interesting characters, stylised yet tactical display of warfare, catchy one-liners & truly imposing score blended with breathtaking visuals; the combination of which delivered an ultra-cool cinematic experience. What Rise of an Empire has is an amateur director at the helm, bland script to work with, terrible casting choices with one exception, uninteresting characters, forgettable performances, multitude of boring warfare, unfitting score & complete absence of the sheer intensity with which the previous chapter moved forward, thus resulting in a very dull & soulless experience.
Coming to the acting department, the casting is all messed up & except for one performance, there is nothing to admire here. It isn’t surprising that Gerard Butler is deeply missed as even the sum of all the performances present in this film don’t come half as close to Butler’s dominating work & magnetic screen presence in 300. Sullivan Stapleton (who?) plays General Themistocles and all he does here is either a lot of blank staring or crapping bullshit about democracy & patriotism. Rodrigo Santoro reprises his role of King Xerxes & is surprising quiet compared to the endless bragging he did in the last chapter about himself being a God-King. Lena Headey was highly impressive as Queen Gorgo in 300 but isn’t given much to do here. David Wenham is also absent for the major part of the film in favour of the unknown & absent-minded supporting cast who didn’t really disappoint because I expected nothing more from them anyway.
However, the only exception & also the only impressive feature comes in the form of Eva Green whose performance is too good to be in a movie this miserable. Green plays Artemisia with ruthless aggression & steals every scene she appears in with the sultry rendition of her character. Even the unfolding of her character’s arc is intriguing to watch but the writers still fucked it up in the end. Yet, in all honesty, she is the only reason I was able to sit through what is one hell of a dumb flick. On an overall scale, 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t just a step down from its predecessor but is simply a derailment that isn’t worth your time or money & what’s even more horrifying about it is that the end signifies another sequel in the making. The few aspects where it manages to go past the original is in its historical inaccuracy, racist depiction of Persians & unintentionally funny moments of action. And not only does it lack the brimming energy or adrenaline rush that was present in so much abundance in the previous chapter but even fails to deliver the same impact with the few things it was able to inherit. In a sentence… if 300 was a visual epic, then 300: Rise of an Empire is an epic fail.