I don’t believe that anyone who buys a ticket to see “300: Rise of an Empire” will exit the theatre disappointed. That being said, I believe that anyone who buys a ticket to see this film also saw the first “300” film starring Gerard Butler and at least remotely enjoyed it. I fall into this category. I saw the original movie when it came out in 2007, and while I wasn’t in love with it, I appreciated it for what it was. I certainly expected “300: Rise of an Empire” to be terrible at best, as good as a sequel to such a one-dimensional film could be. However, not only did it surprisingly stand on its own, it also added depth to the original storyline, expanding the “300” universe and potentially laying the groundwork for a trilogy.
The story of “300: Rise of an Empire” begins 10 years before the events of the original film. It goes back in time to examine Persia’s first attempt at an invasion of Greece under the command of King Darius. In a daring maneuver, Athenian forces at the time attack Persian forces as they disembark their ships, catching the invading army by surprise and essentially ending the war before it can even begin. During this battle, the king of Athens, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), sets in motion the events of “300” when he kills Kings Darius right in front of his son. The son happens to be Xerxes, the self-proclaimed “god-king” antagonist of the first movie, who swears to destroy all of Greece in revenge for the murder of his father. After this set up, the rest of the movie takes place during the same time as the first “300,” as Themistokles’ Athenian forces fight the Persian sea invasion in the south while Leonidas defends Greece from the North at the Hot Gates.
Leading the Persian navy in the south is the beautiful but deadly Artemisia, played by Eva Green. Artemisia turns out to be one of the more interesting characters in the film, because as her name indicates, she is Greek, however has risen up the ranks of the Persian Empire and is now set on seeing her home country burn.
As a lead character, Temistokles was not quite as larger-than-life as Leonidas, but was a much more likable and relatable character. One of the major reasons I enjoyed this film was because of a certain degree of character development that was simply non-existent in the original “300.” The Spartans of this first film were entirely one-dimensional. They existed only to fight and longed for the day they could die a glorious death on the battlefield.
The Athenian soldiers of “300: Rise of an Empire” were just ordinary people. Many are said to be artists and sculptors, and they all have their own hopes, dreams and aspirations that lie beyond the battlefield. Because of this, the characters are unique and have the ability to be distinguished from one another, a welcome change from the first film, in which every actor was basically playing the same person.
Although the story in “300: Rise of an Empire” is more fleshed out than its predecessor, it still is a “300” film and stays loyal to the uber-gory, over the top violent collage of blood, guts and slow-motion deaths. If you see this movie, you will see arms and heads cut off. You will see swords slashing across the faces of soldiers and sending a fountain of dark, thick blood across the screen. You will also see a series of impossibly epic and historically inaccurate events take place and soldiers who never existed, performing feats of strength and combat skill that could never have been done.
While “300: Rise of an Empire” is exactly what one thinks it is in many ways, it has a few surprises. The storyline and character development are surprisingly good, while the acting, historical inaccuracy and level of ridiculous, almost novel violence is pretty much exactly where one would expect it to be. I don’t think this film will be attracting any new fans to the series, but if you liked “300,” you’re bound to enjoy this.
ONLY RECOMMENDED IF: You were a fan of the first movie, enjoy extreme violence, slow motion death scenes and lots and lots and lots (and lots) of blood.