Dir: Noam Murro
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Jack O’Connell and Rodrigo Santoro
Synopsis: Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy
*Reviewer Note: This will be an almost spoiler free review. Reason being is that the movie serves as prequel, side-story and sequel to 300, so some stuff will come up. However, I won’t spoil anything from Rise of an Empire.*
As stated above in the Reviewer Note, 300: Rise of an Empire is a prequel, side-story, and sequel to the 2006 hit 300. The movie starts with Queen Gorgo (Headey) giving a speech about fallen 300 Spartans and gives a brief history of the Battle of Marathon. We then go witness the Athenian army, led by hero Themistokles (Stapleton) attacking King Darius’ men. From there we get the origins of the “god king” Xerxes (Santoro), who is Darius’ son (not a spoiler since IT’S HISTORY). But we also find out that the only reason for Xerxes plans of revenge of world dominance comes from a ruthless general Artemisia (Green).
As you’ve probably seen in the trailers and TV spots, the action mostly takes place at sea. The Athenians, which are the heroes this time around, are skilled sailors and battle Artemisia’s much larger army across the ocean. But during all the action we occasionally cut to moments from 300 to get a concept of the timeline or even scenes with Themistokles going to Sparta to meet Queen Gorgo or a pre-Hot Gates injured Dilios (David Wenham).
Themistokles is very different from King Leonidas. Themistokles is fighting for a united Greece and wants to spread the new Athenian concept of democracy as opposed to Sparta’s self-preservation. Also, opposed to the Spartan soldiers, the Athenian navy is made up of farm-hands, tradesmen, and more.
Artemisia, on the other hand, is ruthless, quick-tempered, and at times blinded by vengeance. Which is a recurring theme in the movie with most of the characters driven by revenge of something. Her plan “to erase Athens from history” is an extreme one however, as are her actions throughout the film – which makes her one, if not, the best character of the movie, but Artemesia is given some real context, and when you discover the reason for her wrath, she becomes somewhat sympathetic.
Director Noam Murro’s only previous credit is romantic comedy Smart People, so it’s a bit of an unusual choice for the director’s chair. Thankfully, Murro makes Rise of an Empire into an enjoyable and fun action movie. He makes some stand-out sequences included a fiery sea battle, the last fight and even the love scene is filmed like a brawl. A literal battle of the sexes that’s more erotic than you would think (and probably should be).
Acting wise, Eva Green owns the role and like I said before is probably one of, if not the best, character in the movie. She has a femme fatale quality to her but is very manipulative toward Xerxes. Anytime she’s on screen she isn’t chewing the scenery but pushing the story forward or ready to kill someone. She’s truly an amazing character. If Green wasn’t on anyone’s radar she will be after this.
Sullivan Stapleton heroic Themistokles plays his role as a man that is driven to bring the nation together to fight the greater threat but is also a character filled with guilt over his involvement in the starting of the war, and his regret at sending so many young men to early graves. Being a fan of his from his Cinemax show Strike Back, it’s nice to see Stapleton on the big screen and he definitely has a leading man screen presence.
In smaller roles, Lena Heady who returns as the Spartan Queen Gorgo delivers some of the film’s best lines but isn’t really anything more than a cameo. Jack O’Connell, plays Calisto, a young warrior who wants to make his father Scyllias (Callan Mulvey) proud of him. Rodrigo Santoro’s Xerxes really takes a back seat in this, only appearing in a few scenes mostly with Artemisia, but doesn’t really do much.
But, the real highlight in the movie is the action. The sea battles are pretty cool to watch although some will probably be thrown off by some of the wonky camera work (I’ll admit I did at times). The sword battles are also pretty cool this time around and some are fast hitting that you loose yourself in the action. They’re, dare I say, more hard hitting and extreme this time around than 300.
All in all, 300: Rise of an Empire is a great action movie and thankfully it doesn’t completely try to copy what made 300 what it was, although there are some things that are welcomed. The way the story is set up and told really works as it all comes together (obviously) at the end. For a sequel that some people wanted, I’d say some will be happy with the outcome.
300: Rise of an Empire
4 out of 5