300: Rise Of An Empire – Review


Has it really been seven years since 300?! Wow, time flies. In fairness, the reason it doesn’t feel like the better part of a decade has passed since Zack Synder’s sophomoric directorial effort is doubtless because, in that time, we’ve had countless movies, video games, and even TV shows all attempt to mimic 300’s bleached-out slo-mo signature with typically poor levels of success. It’d be swell to be able to point out what makes 300: Rise Of An Empire better than any of those; but frankly, it isn’t.


Set before, after and during the events of 300 – we’re told of Gerard Butler’s skirmish going on in the background about halfway through – Rise Of An Empire follows Athenian general Thermistocles as he leads the naval assault against Persian forces commanded by sultry commander Artemisia. With a new cast made up of the largely-unknown Sullivan Stapleton, everyone’s favourite crazy-eyed siren Eva Green, and plodding Brit teen-actor Jack O’Connell, the sequel draws in a few familiar faces from its predecessor; most for cameos, but in the case of Lena Headey, an actual supporting role. It’s worth noting that literally any moment involving any of the cast of the first film ranks easily as Rise Of An Empire’s best; if only because, with the exception of Green, the “new” cast are uniformly poor.


Stapleton, perhaps best known as one of the two leads on TV’s Call Of Duty knock-off Strike Back, is simply drowning in a film that calls on him to muster a familiar sense of growling appeal, but instead leaves him seeming restrained and dull. It may not entirely be Stapleton’s fault; the script, in fairness, has a lot to answer for in that regard, as well as for most of the films faults elsewhere. Green is fun to watch, and is clearly enjoying herself, but her role is mostly non-existent save for a daddy-issues backstory that stands out as a rather feeble attempt to artificially develop a rounded female-character (the series now has literally two women). O’Connell meanwhile puts in the same sneering Cockney wide-boy performance he always has; his casting proving particularly chuckle-inducing during a father-son moment that hopes to mirror a scene in the first movie, but instead proves mawkish and laughable in the hands of the former Skins actor.


Cut from the same commercial-director cloth as Zack Snyder before him, Noam Murro makes a clearly misjudged mistake in attempting to visually differentiate his film from Snyder’s. Ditching the sepia cartoon filter that made 300 as iconic as it is, Murro instead opts for a more photo-realistic aesthetic and cranks the soft focus up three or four levels; the resulting style proving irreparably jarring in the face of the (still-cartoonlike) arterial spray that, at points, resorts to literally chucking (computer-generated) blood on the camera lens. Of course, none of this makes a difference anyway; as, on top of the poor performances and badly written characters, the film is simply dull. The script has no clear sense of its own location (leaving the characters to seem constantly meandering), almost every line of dialogue is a poor imitation of what’s come before, and the visual effects at play fall so foul of Murro’s photo-realism that it’s incredibly hard to take seriously. 


Perhaps most ill-judged of all however, is Rise Of An Empire’s complete lack of irony. Lacking the tongue-in-cheek wink-wink music video sensibility that made 300 such a guiltily enjoyable homoerotic slash ‘em-up, Rise Of An Empire plays it straight instead; dulling down the amusing gay subtext of the series’ first entry, and instead simply coming across as unintentionally camp. It’s an ill-conceived attempt to follow in the footsteps of Snyder with a sequel that, frankly, was ridiculous in concept alone; if it’s achieved anything, it’s been to make Snyder’s film seem like a genuinely brilliant work in hindsight. On it’s own terms, Rise Of An Empire is an utter failure of a film; in comparison to 300, it’s more like 3.



Catch Van Connor’s reviews in our Movies section and live on Slam Dunk Cinema every Saturday at 12PM on Sheffield Live! 93.2FM or on the podcast via iTunes.


In it
Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Jack O’Connell

Behind it
Noam Murro

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