The mostly unlikely sequel acts as a companion piece to 300, bringing with it more of Miller’s trademark broads, blood and blades by swapping Spartans for Athenians.
NB: This review originally appeared at our sister site, Behind the Panels.
Zack “Snack” Snyder‘s adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s 300 was an almost literal interpretation of the graphic novel origins, a vision that could come from nothing else except the marriage of modern digital filmmaking and comic book art. Frequently imitated, the unique action style and distinctive rows of abdominals threw the history books out the window in favour of a beast that, along with Sin City, came closest in the last decade to completely replicating the sequential art that inspired it. A sequel seemed highly improbable, given the final fate of the 300 Spartans at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae, yet new director Noam Murro has done just that.
Based on the yet-to-be-released graphic novel Xerxes by Frank Miller, 300: Rise of an Empire is both a prequel and a sequel to the previous hit. Opening on the battlefield of the fallen 300 Spartans, the widowed Queen Gorgo of Sparta (Lena Heady) recounts how General Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton) killed the Persian King Darius I, but unwittingly lit the spark that would send Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) on a journey, elevating him to the level of “God-King”. As Persia takes Greece’s democracy personally, general Artemisia (Eva Green) leads her navy against the forces of Themistocles, while King Leonidas defends the Hot Gates.
If Snyder’s 300 was a case of style being the substance, then 300: Rise of an Empire apes the style without bringing with it any of the cache the original might have had. The first film played fast and loose with the facts, and this follow-up throws them completely out the window. The bombshell Artemisia, played with smouldery-eyed glee by Green, is portrayed as harbouring a hatred of Greeks from years as a sex slave aboard one of their ships. From the histories we do have of her, she was in actuality Queen Artemisia I of Caria, and screenwriters Snyder and Kurt Johnstad’s take on her completely refocuses the war as one of a personal battle of the wills. Indeed, when Themistocles and Artemisia finally meet, she uses sex as a weapon.
Visually, Murro apes the look of the film’s predecessor, using the same fast-slow action style employed by producer Snyder in many of his own films. As such, those who simply want another few hours of spectacular battles, including some fairly impressive naval combat, will undoubtedly be incredibly pleased with this entry. Indeed, as a pure feast for the senses, 300: Rise of an Empire is pretty much what we expected.
300: Rise of an Empire might run parallel to the first film, but it’s virtually a remake as well. A single leader against an unstoppable force is still the aim of the game, and there’s even a father-son dynamic happening within the ranks of the Athenians, just as there was in the original outing with the Spartans. Swap the red cloaks for blue, and you have all the essential ingredients for a 300 sequel, and if you can ignore the historical inaccuracies, there’s plenty of mindless fun to be had here.