“300: Rise of an Empire” doesn’t top or equal the original, but this companion piece to the 2007 blockbuster “300” still offers some deliciously sly camp filled with the franchise’s signature speed-ramping fights and bloody CGI gore. This time, the story utilizes love and vengeance for its central theme, while consistently delivering a sense of duality to the story and character elements presented in the “300” movie canon.
The film is primarily set in the Greek waters where epic naval battles are fought between the Greeks and the Persians. What ultimately stands out from the carnage is the Persian naval commander Artemisia, played by Eva Green, whose glorious absurdity becomes the best reason to see the film. It is worth noting though, that the Philippine version showing in regular theaters is disappointingly and annoyingly cut, seemingly to earn a safe R-16 rating and profit more in the box office. The sex scene, which is very crucial to the movie from a storytelling standpoint, gets abruptly cut — without any concern to the technical jumps it can actually bring to the edit.
This action-fantasy crowd-pleaser serves as an extension of the “300” saga with a plot running concurrently to the events of the previous flick. Marching to the same beat as its predecessor, it features another archetypal tale using Frank Miller’s “300” comic book as its backdrop. The narrative is essentially a violent and erotic love story formed out of opposing guilt, vengeance, and passion for warfare between two war leaders — the Greek general Themistokles and the Persian navy commander Artemesia. Themistokles attempts to unite all of Greece as he and his men get pitted against the invading Persian forces of the androgynous Xerxes and his ace henchwoman. This makes the story quite interesting and so much fun to play with, considering the slow-motion ultra-violence and the comic-book bloodbath style that the franchise is best known for.
Noam Murro takes the helm in this follow-up project with the first movie’s director Zach Snyder acting as producer and co-writer. A good number of actors from the first film reprise their roles including Lena Heady as the Spartan Queen Gorgo, Rodrigo Santoro as the god-king Xerxes, and David Wenham as the storytelling warrior Dilios, to name a few. Even the 300 men who faced their glorious deaths from the endless hordes of Persian forces outnumbering them during the Battle of Thermopylae also have rightful screen times in this sophomore offering.
This myth-making piece generally works as a stylized ancient Greece live-action cartoon that is backed up by its own rendition of video-game flair. Brimming with wondrous panoramas and thrillingly staged battles, its action chops clearly get a lot of mileage out of the sheer commercial spectacle the scenes bring on screen. The elegant shots in this second installment remain epic in scope, promoting that expected guilty pleasure for its target audience.
Compared to the overwhelmingly fun, testosterone-savvy audio components of the first film, especially Tyler Bates’ distinctive soundtrack, this one doesn’t have that same treatment and recall to up the ante of the visuals in the same way as the original.
Eva Green may be the antagonist in the story, but her kinkily leather-clad and ball gown-armor-wearing Artemisia conquers the screen every time, leaving almost nothing to her co-actors, including Sullivan Stapleton who takes the place of Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas in this second “300” movie. This is not to say that the other cast members aren’t always contributing to the spectacle with their equally campy portrayals, but Green simply owns the movie amidst her one-dimensional role. The smoky-eyed sensuality in her bravado performance remains captivatingly insane throughout — that the story wouldn’t be much without her. Indeed, she is, by far, the best thing in the movie as she renders that brutal punk vamp persona using the symphonic intensity of her glares, gnashing teeth, and bombastic lines.
Despite his best efforts, Stapleton unfortunately fails to summon the blunt force brought by Butler in the previous film. Meanwhile, Santoro and Heady do their best to add to the marvel of this genre flick. Callan Mulvey as Scyllias ultimately fails with such an annoying performance, especially during his tragic moment.
Somewhere in its fog of fictional ideas and characterizations, which are generally based on historical accounts, this film has that clear attempt for a coherent story without veering away from its predecessor’s deeply invested carnage. But overall, it is still a major step down as it fails to go beyond the lofty shadow of “300” as a B-movie cult classic. It doesn’t completely succeed in at least duplicating the sensibilities and the cinema history-making impact of the original. Add the local issue of its R-rating version, which mercilessly murders the relevant sex scene between Themistokles and Artemisia, then this romantic war tale loses much of its genuine storytelling power, to the point of making itself a mere empty exercise in stylish, over-the-top entertainment.