Rise of an Empire is another dumb CGI epic
If you liked 300 you’ll adore the cumbersomely titled 300: Rise of an Empire a sort-of sequel that’s exactly like the first film. This latest exercise in homoerotic bloodletting is basically a two-hour deleted scene from the first film. Literally: Rise of an Empire opens with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) regaling her boatload full of Spartan soldiers with the tale of Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) an Athenian soldier that brought the Persian empire to its knees.
If you remember the first film (there’s lots of near-incomprehensible historicizing and flashback scenes from 300 if that uh helps) it ended with Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300-strong gang of Spartan troops getting butchered by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian army. The victory has given Xerxes — all 10 gloriously bejazzled feet of him — the confidence needed to crush the Greeks once and for all.
He’s aided by Artemisia (an occasionally topless Eva Green) an evil temptress who has a personal vendetta against the Greeks. In one of many many digressive scenes the film pauses to mention how as a child she saw Greeks slaughter her entire family. After surviving a horrible rape-filled childhood on a Greek slave ship she vowed to destroy Greek civilization.
Xerxes also has a personal score to settle — Themistokles killed his father sometime in the indeterminate past. He sits most of the film out however. This is Artemisia’s show and Green’s hysterical performance places her at the outer reaches of camp; at one point she makes out with a decapitated head. At its best the film occasionally resembles a slicker version of the shit-tastic megabomb Caligula .
Otherwise there’s little to care about here: why does Themistokles need to keep the Greek empire together? Everyone keeps taking about why Spartans are so great but why? There’s so much minute historical detail that the whole thing is rendered meaningless; really why is anybody in the film doing any of this? After a while one scene of slow-motion 3D blood splatter becomes like any other.
And if you’re a fan of that technique — endless slow-motion scenes of carnage — you’re in for a treat; that describes about 90 per cent of the movie. Sam Peckinpah must be spinning in his grave. Zack Snyder as one would suspect didn’t direct this sequel though he may as well have. If director Noam Murro contributed anything personal to the film it’s impossible to discern. Ideally both films would be viewed simultaneously.
Snyder did however co-write the screenplay based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel Xerxes . Purportedly that was the original name of the film or one of them but was deemed too “exotic.” I’m not sure if 300: Rise of an Empire is an improvement. Anyway it’s yet another Miller-penned proto-fascist and masturbatory fantasy of male camaraderie and bone-headed loyalty. Whereas 300 at least had a solid comprehensible plot Rise of an Empire suffers from a crippling case of Attention Deficit Disorder skipping from one chaotic battle to another. Even the climactic confrontation resembles one of those boss fights straight out of a video game.
Some of those fights however are pretty wonderful. The film takes advantage of its 18A rating with plenty of dismembered limbs gushing blood and gallons of CGI arterial spray. Additionally most of the film takes place on the open ocean between battling fleets of warships. An early scene has Themistokles’s ships creeping out of the mist smashing and sinking Persian boats. It’s spectacular. But to borrow a phrase from Stephen King the film is like a Cadillac without the motor.
If you didn’t like 300 you’ll gain nothing by seeing this sequel. If however you were one of the many whose inner fascist was stirred by it you’ll find a lot to love.
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE directed by Noam Murro starring Sullivan Stapleton Eva Green and Lena Headey now playing.