This review contains light spoilers.
Were you a fan of the film 300? You know the one – with the dramatic gory shots, muscular men, and creator of ever popular phrases like “This. Is. SPARTA!” along with dramatically kicking people down large pits? You’ve also probably heard of the new one, 300: Rise of an Empire. Considering the last film ended with the death of (spoilers!) 299 Spartans and the 300th leading a battle against Xerxes’ empire, you would probably expect that this was where the sequel would pick up, right? Not only that, but we’d get ample time with the characters we already know and love?
300: Rise of an Empire follows Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton) and his epic, dramatic naval battles against Artemisia (Eva Green), Xerxes’ most important second in command that occurred during the first film. Don’t you remember there being talk of a dramatic naval battle in the first film? Me neither. Either way, Themistocles and his team of incredibly buff Athenians use their wits and terrible ships to take down one of the biggest and most feared naval forces during the Persian invasion of Greece.
Although this movie attempts to be just like the first in terms of style and story telling, it falls flat. Zack Snyder has a very specific style when it comes to his films, and although director Noam Murro attempted to be similar, it ended up looking cartoonish. Instead of blood dramatically being flung around (which is already gory enough), the film has the blood actually “hit” the camera and we have to watch moments of fights through blood.
The main character, Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton), may be one of the most bland characters ever to be put to screen. He’s awesome, he kicks ass, and he looks good doing it, but there’s no depth. The audience has no ability to feel any sort of emotional connection with him. He also lacks the commanding power that King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) did in the original 300. Artemisia (Eva Green) was one of the fiercest characters in the film, but she was given the most stereotypical dramatic female backstory ever. If you can get past that, she is one of the strongest, intelligent, and most interesting characters to watch. But considering most of the characters here have the complexity of a blank sheet of paper, that’s not saying much.
There’s also the issue with the side characters. In 300, we have may memorable side characters that we can enjoy, whether it’s their backstory, story arc, or abs. However, the side characters in 300: Rise of an Empire are so basic that they could be thrown away at any moment, and that the film does just that. People are killed during these naval engagements, and there is little mourning. There is a dramatic scene where a character we’ve spent a majority of the film getting to know is critically injured, and I had forgotten that he had even been there in the first place.
The major selling points of this film were also incredibly under-used. The back story of King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is quickly told, and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is only in the film for a few scenes. Xerxes seems as though he could have become a fully complex character, especially after his fear of being hurt in the last film, but instead, we only get a few dramatic flashbacks of him becoming the new king, before he’s slapping people around as usual.
Although my hopes for 300: Rise of an Empire weren’t all that high, this film outright disappointed me with its cliches and lack of quotable lines and memorable characters. If it’s possible to turn your brain off for two hours, then this film might be enjoyable. There’s always the alternative of watching paint dry – it’s just as interesting, and you’ll save your money.