Eight years after the successful release of its predecessor, “300: Rise of an Empire” attempts to resurrect the great success of “300,” and ultimately, as many sequels do, falls short. “Rise of an Empire” certainly delivers on effects, fighting and babes, but lacks an effective story.
“Rise of an Empire” is a prequel, parallel story and sequel all rolled into one. The audience is introduced to the hero Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), the commander of the Greek army faced with the task of fighting a Persian takeover. Stapleton fits in nicely as the fearless, ripped and brooding commander stereotype, but doesn’t quite live up to Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas from “300.” The evil god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) returns but is no longer the main villain. The real antagonist of the film takes shape in Xerxes’ companion and naval commander, Artemisia (Eva Green). Artemisia’s vast forces attempt to overtake all of Greece in extensive battles against Themistokles’ small but cunning defense.The fighting doesn’t seem necessary to the actual story as much as it seems as foreplay for Artemisia and Themistokles’ relationship. Although some of the battles seem a bit pointless to the story, the visual effects are stunning, and the action is fantastic and endless.
The cinematography of the film is something to take note of — director Noam Murro lets his audience take in the striking color and movement on screen. The character of the locations lends the characters a power befitting their mythical status. The blood is darker and alive when it flies from the bodies of those killed. Each scene is dream-like and mystic in itself, leaving the idea that it may all be a fantasy. Every few minutes or so the film slips into slow motion, which is probably supposed to make it more dramatic but gets a little old after a while. The greatest scene of this movie is, surprisingly, the sex scene — an overly dramatic coupling that’s more awkward than enticing. I’m not so sure its intent was to be funny, but it had the audience laughing well after the scene was over, and made me think, “Wow, they really did this?” The sex tries too hard to be “sexy” and “dangerous” and ends up being comical instead.
“Rise of an Empire” has the formula that gives any action-lover just what they need. I’ve never had so much 3-D blood or boobs flying at my face before, and I’m not necessarily complaining. “Rise of an Empire” is many things, but it is definitely not boring. At some point there is so much action going on in the frame that it’s hard to know where to look. Murro does a great job of making each battle as fantastic and as brutal as possible. “Rise of an Empire” does have flashes of deep and concerning motifs that go beyond the fighting. There is quite a heartbreaking look into Artemisia’s past and how it made her into the monster she becomes. The audience even gets a look into Xerxes’ past and sympathy can be gained for him. The only problem is we don’t get these types of insights with the protagonists like Themistokles. The audience is just supposed to automatically like and admire him because he fits the “hero” mold. I found myself liking Artemisia more than Themistokles, who seemed a bit dense even though he was the “good” guy. Eva Green also entices the audience with her menacing and slow movements as Artimisia. Green is simply captivating and frightening at the same time. Artimisia is only a naval commander, but demands power with her brutal sword and deceiving smile — she’s been betrayed, and boy will she get her revenge.
“Rise of an Empire” fails to transcend the low expectations of the mindless action movie. That’s the great thing about it, though. You can watch this movie without any expectations or without thinking too much and simply be entertained. The striking visual effects and powerful fighting scenes are enough to make “Rise of an Empire” a good film for a mindless and fun afternoon at the theater.