In 2006, Zack Snyder's 300 debuted with a brutally brilliant visual style that captured the attention of audiences around the world and now, 300: Rise of an Empire is here to fill in even more of the hyper stylized story surrounding the infamous 300 Spartan soldiers who defied an army and gave their lives for a nation. Noam Murro takes over directing duties while Lena Heady, Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, and Callan Mulvey round out the extremely athletic cast.
The story begins at roughly the same time as the first movie with King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) advancing his army towards Greece in a campaign to take over the world. We also learn how the "God King" became a literally larger than life, imposing figure who would stop at nothing to conquer everything in his path. Partly responsible for this transformation is the Greek general Themistokles (Stapleton) who has led his men to multiple victories against seemingly impossible odds.
With King Leonidas not willing to commit his naval ships to aid Themistokles, the threat of Xerxes' General, Artemisia (Green) invading by sea grows stronger and stronger. The two seem destined to clash and the Greek commander does everything he can to rally his patchwork army against the superior strength and numbers of the Persian navy. The last hope for Greece relies equally on Leonidas and Sparta's 300 soldiers who have marched to the hot gates at Thermopylae and Themistokles's strength and leadership against a seemingly unstoppable opponent.
When the original 300 came out, I was pretty much blown away by all the awesome Zack Snyder put on the screen and, like most people, couldn't wait to see more. The visual style was unlike anything we had seen before and Gerard Butler was perfectly bad ass as the larger than life King Leonidas. The hyper reality that was Snyder came up with turned out the be a perfect way to adapt Frank Miller's famous graphic novel for the big screen.
300: Rise of an Empire, other than a mostly new cast of characters, is pretty much just more of what we saw in the first movie and I don't mean that in a bad way at all. I'll be honest, for the first 15 minutes or so, I was a little disconnected, but after reminding myself what I was there to see, it was a much more satisfying experience. This is true escapism and is best digested with a willingness to just jump right in and enjoy the ride.
I do really like how the story parallels the events of the first movie rather than being a straight sequel or prequel. You get more back story and a lot of stuff is filled in as far as what was going on while Leonidas and the Spartans were holding the Persian army back at the Hot Gates. We see all the characters from the first movie at some point in the film including Xerxes of course, Queen Gorgo (Heady) who has a fairly significant role, and even the traitorous hunchback Ephialtes who is once again played by Andrew Tiernan.
One thing I was a little worried about was the choice to go with Noam Murro, who is essentially making his debut as a feature film director, as a replacement for Zack Snyder, but overall he did just fine. Having Snyder there to oversee the project certainly helped and the only thing I really didn't like about his take on the material was his tendency to use a lot more close ups of the characters which, to me, is not what you want to see in a big time action blockbuster type movie. Show me everything, not just the person's face!!!! Other than that, the movie was just fine and did exactly what I wanted it to. There was lots of blood, tons of fighting, plenty of shouting, and many explosions.
300: Rise of an Empire will never match the hype of the original as that movie literally changed the course of film making in one swift and bloody sword stroke, but it is still a very entertaining movie and carries on the story in a very entertaining way. While Sullivan Stapleton may not be able to fill Gerard Butler's very big shoes, you will really get a kick out of Eva Green and how she just chews up and spits out every single scene she's in. There were a couple things I was hoping to see that never came about, but overall it was definitely worth taking another trip back through Frank Miller and Zack Snyder's vision of what ancient Greece may or may not have been like.