You can’t keep a crazy Persian king down. And thus, after getting his ass handed to him by 300 Spartans in Zack Snyder’s 2006 hit “300,” Persia’s self-styled God-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is back for another helping of Greek butt kicking. This time around he’s brought along vengeful gal pal Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek orphan who has a major grudge to settle with her fellow countrymen, especially those vaunted Spartans. And so the stage is set for another Hellenic bloodbath, this time on the seas and with the Spartans playing background noise. Taking the lead is Athenian General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), a master tactician who may have just bitten off more than he can chew when Artemisia brings the entire Persian Navy to battle.
Directed by relative newcomer Noam Murro, who does a hell of a job despite having only the moderately budgeted 2008 movie “Smart People” under his belt, “300: Rise of an Empire” is the sequel that fans of the first movie deserves. It’s wild, bloody, colorful, and there are enough unnecessary (but oh so cool) slow motion shots to make producer Zack Snyder proud. (Snyder, FYI, nabs co-writing credits along with the series’ original creator Frank Miller.) The story of “Rise of an Empire” runs parallel to the events of “300,” taking place before, during, and after the battle of Thermopylae. I was a bit worried about this part, but the sequel handles the many plot threads surprisingly well.
Stapleton (Cinemax’s “Strike Back”) makes for a decent Leonidas stand-in, and just like Leonidas’ crew in the first movie, his supporting cast is mostly lost in the background, with perhaps the exception being the father-and-son tandem of Scyllias (Callan Mulvey) and Calisto (Jack O’Connell). Similarly, Eva Green lords over her Naval supporting cast, and frankly I couldn’t tell you any of their names. With the exception of Xerxes (Santoro reprising his role from the first movie), the bad guys are essentially one pissed off Greek chick who is liable to just as easily chop off your head as she is to (literally) screw you into submission. Seriously, at one point Artemisia and Themistocles attempt to hump each other into surrendering friendly terms during a particularly randy negotiation session.
“300” survivors Queen Gorgo (Cersei Lannister herself, Lena Headey) and the one-eyed Dilios (David Wenham) show up to tie the two films together and give some inspiration speeches. But it’s really all about the combat, and a huge chunk of “300: Rise of an Empire” takes place at sea. There are a number of exceptional battle scenes, and of course they get wilder as the story progress, and you get the feeling the writers kept saying to themselves, “Okay, that last battle scene was awesome, but let’s really jack it up for the next one!” By the end of the film, our hero is hopping from ship to ship on, I kid you not, a horse. In a sea battle.
If you’re looking for wild slow-motion fights and comic book action, you really can’t go wrong with “300: Rise of an Empire.” It has just about everything fans of the first movie wants: action, violence, and a little T&A just because it can. The only real point in the film that deserves some nitpicking is the final fight involving the Immortals on Artemisia’s ship. The CGI work here is too “Matrix: Reloaded” for my taste. By which I mean, there are whole sequences where you know for a fact that none of the brawlers are real people, which was disappointing since I was so looking forward to some brutal Immortals action. Other than this little hiccup, “300: Rise of an Empire” is a hell of a companion piece to Zack Snyder’s 2006 flick.
The “300: Rise of an Empire” Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and 2-Disc Standard Definition DVD Special Edition contain the following special features:
- The 300 Effect: 3 Days in Hell – Brutal Artistry – A New Breed of Hero – Taking the Battle to the Sea
- Real Leaders & Legends
- Women Warriors
- Savage Warships
- Becoming a Warrior