Ever since 300 became a surprise blockbuster they’ve been talking about a sequel. However it kept getting put back due to the fact comic creator Frank Miller hadn’t finished the graphic novel it was supposed to be based on. Eventually they decided to go ahead anyway, and so we have 300: Rise Of An Empire.
The movie is a sidequel to the earlier film, following the men of Athens before, during and after what happened to Gerard Butler and his Spartans (and in case you’re wondering, the shirtlessness and six pack abs are back, although the Athenians aren’t quite as hulking as the Spartans).
Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is the leader of Athens’ military, who are a more ragtag bunch than the born-to-fight Spartans. Athens is just becoming a democracy and is keen the keep the freedom they now have, although inevitably the Persians have different ideas, especially as Themistocles is responsible for the death of god-king Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) father. While Xerxes himself is in Sparta, the fearsome Artemisia (Eva Green) sails with the Persian navy towards Athens, where she has scores to settle.
Once more a small bunch of Greeks must take on the might of Persia – and of course it will involve a lot of slow-motion fighting.
Reading that synopsis you’d be forgiven for thinking, ‘Hang on, isn’t that just the first movie again?’. And well, yes, kinda, except with a woman at the head of the Persian Army instead of a man, and most of the battling taking place at sea. It also tries to differentiate itself by being a bit more talky and attempting to get rather slightly thoughtful about the concept of freedom and the importance of fighting for it.
Indeed there are moments where it feels like it’s trying to be the ancient Greek version of The West Wing, but unfortunately the writers behind this one aren’t Aaron Sorkin. In fact it would probably have been better if it hadn’t been quite chatty, as it’s oddly high-minded attitudes clash with its absolute glorification of violence to the point where it becomes rather distasteful. There are several moments where it seems to be suggesting not that freedom is worth dying for, but that you ought to kill for it, which is a far different ideal than the movie seems to realise.
Its attitudes are particularly problematic because with surprisingly few changes the whole thing could have been swapped round with Artemisia the hero and Athens the villain. For a start she’s by far the most interesting character and is played with absolute relish and power by Eva Green – and the movie doesn’t try to hide that, instead lionising her. Her grievance against Greece is also very understandable and clashes massively with what Themistocles says Athens stands for. Indeed a smarter script might have challenged the Athenians’ unabashed patriotism with a little appreciation of the responsibilities of freedom.
However that might have detracted from the orgy of violence (every person on the planet who knows how to create spurting CGI blood must have been working full-time on this film in order for it to reach its release date). But hey, nobody watched the first one for the plot, did they?
300 became a hit because of its style and visuals, along with the fact no one had seen anything quite like it before. Rise Of An Empire knows that but is rather trapped by the fact that just doing the same thing again can’t have the same novelty value, while doing anything different would likely disappoint people and make it feel like the sequel to a different film.
That said, the sea battles are rousing, extremely well directed and have oodles of style – even if you do need a rather strong stomach for them. However if you’re the sort of person who pays attention to the plot and what a movie is actually saying, the whole thing is a little more troubling. In fact it’s actually rather disturbing to the point where its jingoistic militarism becomes worryingly totalitarian.
I know you probably shouldn’t analyse this sort of film that much, but all its talk about the meaning of freedom opens the door to that, and it’s difficult not to come to the conclusion that it’s saying one thing and doing another. Indeed, it makes democracy seem just a little psychotic.
However if all you want is lot of shirtless men (and despite reports to the contrary, it doesn’t come off quite as homoerotic this time around) showing off their skills in making blood spurt out of people, you’ll be more than satisfied – especially on Blu-ray where the haemorrhaging is as crisp and bright as you could possibly hope for.
The disc also has comes with interesting special features, particularly a featurette that looks at what’s known about the real battle between the Persians and Athenians that did indeed take place at the same time as the Spartans were dying, as well as what’s known about Artemisia herself.
Overall Verdict: Plenty of style and rousing action, but its insistence on freedom at the point of a sword becomes a little disturbing – Eva Green is great though.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac