“300: Rise of an Empire” is probably one of the strangest approaches to sequel-making to come out of Hollywood in some time. Serving both as a prequel, sequel and a side story to the original movie, it also seems to take everything the original film stands for and outright parody it. This is not to say that “300: Rise of an Empire” is a good film, it is a completely mind-numbingly stupid action flick, but it is better than it has any right to be.
Because the film is trying to pull the prequel-side story-sequel-threequel routine, what little of a story we have becomes a confusing mess. We follow Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) an Athenian general and a champion of democracy who finds himself on a collision course with the Persians. Turns out years before the first film, Themistocles’ actions would go on to eventually turn Xerxes into the “golden god” we know today.
Flash-forward to the present and we see Themistocles and 50 Athenian boats taking a stand against Xerxes’ navy, led by his second-in-command Artemisia (Eva Green), until their eventual death or the death of the first film’s cast in order to spur the creation of a unified Greece and rid the land of the Persian invaders forever.
While the numerous battles in the first film happened on land, “Rise of an Empire” largely takes place at sea. This creates a strange fracture in the film, as it causes director Noam Murro to rely on terrible CGI, but it also creates a more visually interesting action film.
Naval warfare during the time period is something that is not shown in film often, so it allows for some actually very fun set pieces. The choreography is better in this film then the previous, and it is much more brutal. This is not a film for the faint of heart, as limbs are constantly being cut off, but it is not a film you can really take seriously either. There is a point in the film where one of the characters jumps out of the bottom of a flaming boat on a horse, dives into the ocean and then launches out into an enemy frigate – an incredibly stupid scene that left me with a silly grin on my face.
But really the saving grace for this film is Eva Green as the villainous Artimesia, a powerful vixen who absolutely owns the role and steals every single scene she is in. It might be that she stands out due to the one-dimensional characters she is surrounded with, but Green really does control this movie. Green’s performance as Artemisia does not just dominate the movie, but she also acts as its dominatrix, handcuffing the film and absolutely controlling everything in it with her presence.
It helps that she is given the only interesting backstory that actually plays into the whole mythology of the series quite well, and also helps humanize her…and then we see her cut off a soldier’s head and make out with it. Green brings a level of sex appeal to the character because she is so twisted and vile. Green has always been a good actress in the roles she picks, but here she does not miss a beat. Fearsome in action scenes, emotional during dramatic scenes and hyper-sexualized as a woman who uses sex as a method of villainy (seriously the war-room scene will probably be talked about for awhile after this movie) all come together to create a performance worth the price of admission alone.
When reviewing a film there is a line you should not cross between professional critique and gushing over a film, so let me just conclude my feelings with this: I am pretty sure I witnessed the acceptance of a closet lesbian due to her performance.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is a film that you should not expect much from. It is laughable as much as it is dramatic, visually unappealing, but yet oddly charming. If the film has a crippling flaw it is that Green’s performance is better than this movie deserves. Athens did not surrender to Artemisia, but “300: Rise of an Empire” certainly did.