Review: 300: Rise of an Empire

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300: Rise of an Empire

Eight years after Zack Snyder revived the sword-and-sandal subgenre and inspired millions of men to revisit the gym with his adaptation of Frank Miller's 300, he has scripted a return to ancient Greece. Directed by Noam Murro (Smart People), the movie 300: Rise of an Empire is a self-indulgent video game fantasy at best.

The film opens with a recap of the events of 300 and an introduction to Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), the new lead, who's head of the Greek army. The action proceeds to explain how Themistokles is not just the hero who led the Greeks to victory over Xerxes, but was himself responsible for the enmity held by Xerxes toward the Greeks.

Artemisia (Eva Green) is introduced as the leader of Xerxes' forces, and the two commence with a series of battles consisting of ships crashing into each other as warriors fight to the death on top of the sinking wrecks.

Here are the rules of Greek vs. Persian combat, as gleaned from 300: Rise of an Empire:

  • Rule 1: Like a friendly game of football, bad guys wear shirts, good guys are skins.
  • Rule 2: Every blow of every sword in every battle must be repeated in videogame style slo-mo.
  • Rule 3: Every scene with any of the Greek army present must have floating sparks constantly distracting from the action on the camera, as if from 10,000 campfires, even when the entire army is climbing wet out of the Mediterranean.
  • Rule 4: If it digitally bleeds, it digitally leads.
  • Rule 5: Nobody important dies without an extended death scene in which they deliver a monologue. Everyone else dies immediately upon the slightest injury.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of things to dislike about a movie that tries to be historically accurate about naval combat before the development of firearms and ends while playing Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." Still, in spite of the ridiculous amounts of digital fake blood and constant slow-fast-slow-fast-slow camera action, this manages to be a slightly less terrible movie than the other recent trip to Greece, The Legend of Hercules.

There are few enough things to like in 300: Rise of an Empire. Those trademark abs are ever on display, of course. The reunion of the entire cast (minus Gerard Butler, who appears only in flashback footage) after nearly a decade is impressive. The actors' talents don't hold the film back, and steamy newcomer Stapleton is quite good. The origin story of Xerxes as God-King is a relatively interesting diversion from the battles, which begin to feel like filler material for a script that, like Snyder's Sucker Punch, is too thin on story and too focused on its exaggerated style.