Seen in IMAX 3D
When 300 invaded movie theaters seven years ago, Zack Snyder stated that it would change the way “sword and scandal” movies were viewed. In a way, he was correct. Its lush visuals and frenetic action sequences were something we’ve never seen before on film. It went on to become a huge success (grossing almost five hundred million dollars worldwide) so evidently, a sequel was inevitable. Seven years later we finally get that sequel and while it might not be as good as 300, it provides its fair share of thrills and visually spectacular moments.
300: Rise of an Empire is not only a sequel, but also a prequel and a companion piece to 300. The beginning takes place ten years before 300 where we see Persia’s first attempt at invading Greece. Persia is defeated when General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) of Athens takes out King Darius of Persia. During that time we see Darius’s son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) ascend to the throne. One could say that this is almost an origin story of Xerxes since we see how Xerxes transforms into the God-like man we see in 300.
Fast forward ten years later and Persia once again invades Greece. This is when the movie mirrors 300; it takes place during the events in 300, but in a different location. While King Leonidas and his army are away battling Xerxes, Themistocles and his army are taking care of the rest of the Persians at sea commanded by Artemisia (Eva Green). Most of the movie takes place here as we see battle after battle until Themistocles hears word that King Leonidas and his army have been defeated. The last act of the film attempts to tell what happens after 300, when Leonidas and his army have fallen.
One of the best things about 300 was Gerard Butler and his larger than life performance as Leonidas. Initially, they planned for him to come back, but he didn’t want to reprise his role. He is sorely missed here and the void left by his absence is never really filled although, Eva Green comes awfully close. She by far has the most interesting character and easily gives the best performance, but despite a tragic backstory, she’s a villain, which makes it hard to sympathize with her character. Instead, we get Stapleton to take Butler’s place and while his performance is fine, his character Themistocles is no Leonidas.
Most people will probably be seeing this for its visuals and epic battle sequences. In that case, this film will not disappoint. Visually, this movie is just as impressive as its predecessor. It’s only in-between the battles that this movies falters. Not a lot of what Themistocles has to say is interesting and his speeches aren’t nearly as memorable as Leonidas’ pep talks. Suffice to say, you won’t be seeing any internet memes or hear people quoting this movie as much at the first film. Thankfully, these scenes are short and it doesn’t take long before the movie cuts to another battle.
Having seen this film in 3D, my advice would be to skip it. It’s not so much how the filmmakers use it (they use it to great effect); it’s the way it looks that’s the problem. One of the negative side effects of 3D is that it tends to make things darker, and that’s what happens here. This is a problem because most of the battle scenes (and most of the movie for that matter) takes place at night or on a gloomy day. On more than one occasion I took off the glasses for a couple of minutes because the picture was so much brighter and I could see what was going on better. I would still advise you to see it in IMAX if you can, but the 3D nearly ruined some of the action sequences. See the 3D version at your own risk. Yes, the globs of blood hurling at you are pretty cool, but it’s not as fun when you can’t see what’s going on.
The best thing than can be said about this film is that it’s never boring. It moves at a nice pace from battle to battle, but those looking for the same experience the first film gave them will be disappointed. With the exception of Eva Green, the performances aren’t as good this time around, the big speeches are boring, and if you thought there was less substance in the first film, there’s even less here. That’s not why people want to see these films though; they just want to see the amazing battle sequences and be entertained for a few hours. The film delivers in that regard, and based on the way this concluded, it’s clear that if this makes enough money at the box office (which it probably will), we’ll be seeing another one of these in the near future.