Posted March 6, 2014 by Nicolo Parungo in Movies/TV

MOVIE REVIEW: Does “300: Rise Of An Empire” Live Up To Its Predecessor?

I think it’s fair to say that any successor to the original 300 is going to have a lot to live up to; after all the first movie turned Zack Snyder into a big time director who went on to direct Watchmen and Man of Steel, it also gained even more exposure for comic book darling Frank Miller, who was already riding the success of his adaptation for Sin City and turned Gerard Butler into a superstar before he decided to star in some truly awful romantic comedies. Given the enormous shadow cast upon it I don’t think anyone would have blamed the film for going into a slightly more different direction.

This makes it all the more shocking how Rise of an Empire does not even bother trying to get out of its predecessor’s shadow and instead revels in it.

Rather than follow up on the immediate repercussions of the Spartan’s rebellion against the God King Xerxes, the film focuses on how the Greeks lead by Themistocles fought the Persians in various boat battles to buy Leonidas time to – in protagonist’s words – unite all of Greece in hopes of toppling their common foe. If that sounds little more than a side story well, you would not be wrong.

For the whole movie our protagonists’ actions are determined by the Spartans from the first film which came out EIGHT YEARS AGO. The biggest example of this is a scene in Sparta where our lead Themistocles hopes to meet with King Leonidas about his plan to unite all of Greece, but is informed by Dilios and Queen Gorgo that Leonidas is resting after he kicked some dude in a well while shouting “THIS IS SPARTA”, presumably because the stranger was rude or something like that. This sets the tone for the entire film and leads to Rise of an Empire not feeling like a sequel or a successor at all, but like a series of deleted scenes used to fill the gaps of the original.

To be frank I find this decision monumentally stupid. The first 300 works well as a standalone film and a companion story feels completely unnecessary. That isn’t to say a story about the Greeks wouldn’t have been interesting, but what really kills the film is that it treats the new leads like bit players to a bigger story; the characters constantly mention how their mission of freedom revolves around completely different protagonists who only appear in recycled footage from 2006, which demeans both the story and the movie; making the audience feel like they are watching filler material of something great rather than a grand epic in its own right.

There’s a moment of absolute cringe worthiness after the Greeks get their first victory when a soldier quips “not bad…for an army of poets”, a line that relies on stock knowledge of the first film (THAT CAME OUT EIGHT YEARS AGO!) and diminishes what should have been a great moment for our leads, almost as if the film is trying to tell the audience “not bad…for a movie that doesn’t have Zack Snyder directing it”, as if it were praising itself for being average.

What makes this all the more depressing is that there are glimpses of greatness to be found; the fight scenes are spectacular and feature impressive choreography and director Noam Murro shows his potential as well in the climax where Themistocles needs to reach the enemy vessel so he rides a horse and goes through a burning boat and the ocean to reach it; symbolism for the classic phrase “come hell and high water.” Sullivan Stapleton as our lead Themistocles shows good fire and emotion even if he lacks the ferocious intensity Gerard Butler brought.

The absolute highlight however is antagonist and new character Artemisia played wonderfully by Eva Green who commands presence and attention just as well as she does her troops. Her devil may care attitude and sadistic nature really helps make the film more watchable, even if her origin is unoriginal and somewhat misogynistic.

In hindsight it’s sad to listen to the most memorable quote of Rise of the Empire’s trailer. Themistocles shouts about how he would rather die standing a free man than kneeling like a slave, but the truth of the matter is that the film is already a slave; it’s a slave to the original’s overbearing shadow, rather than carve its own path the film would rather fill gaps and is seemingly content being a slave to mediocrity.

Special thanks to Warner Bros. for the screening!

Nicolo Parungo