“300: Rise of an Empire” is a film of excesses. Perhaps it’s understandable, given the nature of its predecessor and the notion that successors must eclipse them, but doubling the number of action sequences and bringing their slow-motion moments to an even more laborious crawl only dulls the impact. Ironically, the story drags at times while the decelerated camera pauses on everything from spraying blood and splashing mud to droplets of water and overdramatic battle posturing. The lack of restraint does prove entertaining, however, during the more creative episodes of violence and the memorably tempestuous scene of lust between the stalwart Athenian general and his female nemesis. “300: Rise of an Empire” offers unvaried thrills and little else to surpass the ingenuity of the original.
When the Persian King Darius is slain during his charge to conquer Greece, a far greater threat is born. Fueled by revenge and manipulated by his rancorous commander Artemisia (Eva Green), Darius’ son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) transforms himself into the “god king” and rallies Persia’s titanic army in a new campaign to destroy the city-states. Though vastly outnumbered, Athenian admiral Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) uses superior military strategies to triumph over the initial nautical onslaught from the Persians, but he soon realizes that without the aid of Sparta’s elite warriors, all of Greece may fall.
If the first film accomplished the subtle recreation of individual panels of author Frank Miller’s artwork into three-dimensional cinematic scenes, this follow-up harshly captures evident frames. Posing, sneering, acts of warfare, and carefully constructed, aggressive bladed-weapon exhibition seems to shape snapshots belonging inside intentional borders. The staging almost mocks the impressiveness of key moments from the precursory 2007 project. The cinematography isn’t messy or fluid or natural, but precise and distinct. This style, clearly paralleling penning and inking, looks very much unchanged from before, but now lacks the freshness and originality. It’s a sequel, which peculiarly takes place concurrently to the former plotline, with a plentitude of flashbacks to character origins, the events from “300,” and even to moments earlier in this film. But it didn’t have to be so repetitive.
The same level of detail and attention is awarded to sets, costumes, makeup, armory, and computer-augmented bloodletting, but it doesn’t improve upon what was presented previously. It’s more of the same, though certainly satiating for viewers interested in imbibing further in the dreamlike, altered reality of this hyper-stylized barbarian bloodbath. The constant, overly poetic speechmaking is decidedly less intoxicating. But Eva Green is perfectly cast as a savage, butcherly hellcat, who can’t quite decide whether to be desirable or repulsive – while continually asserting that sexuality is akin to battle. Amusingly, this over-the-top, fantasy-infused, slow-motion-embellished, gore-soaked naval adventure is Frank Miller’s version of a history lesson.
– The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)