Review: 300: Rise Of An Empire

By: Mandy J Watson
Posted: 7 March 2014
Category: Reviews Comments View Comments


With Sparta's 300 finest warriors heading north to defend against the invasion by Persian God-King Xerxes and his formidable army, it's left to the remaining Greek city states to defend against his equally terrifying naval forces, which are commanded by a ruthless warrior. 300: Rise Of An Empire tells their story - the Battle of Artemisium.

300: Rise Of An EmpireThe beginning of 300: Rise Of An Empire jumps around in time - without expressly saying so - in a way that is confusing so it takes a while to get your bearings and understand the context if you don't know the history upon which this is (loosely) based.

In essence, 10 years before the events that take place in 300, the Battle Of Marathon is fought between the Greeks and the Persians, who are led by King Darius (Igal Naor). Athenian Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), through swift action in a fortunate moment in which he is able to wound Darius mortally, becomes a hero of the war but his actions drive Darius's son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), into a revenge-consumed fury that Themistocles knows is going to lead to future trouble.

Back home in Persia, Darius dies and Xerxes assumes the throne with Artemisia (Eva Green), the Persian's naval commander and one of Darius's favourite officers, whispering ideas in his malleable head, naturally. We then learn the story of how Xerxes becomes the imposing God King that we are familiar with from 300.

300: Rise Of An Empire

Fast forward 10 years and Xerxes, infused with his god-like powers and with an ego to match, decides it's time to decimate the Greeks. Meanwhile, Themistocles has united the various Greek city states, bar Sparta, in an alliance, essentially under the ethos of "united we stand, divided we fall" as once the Persians take Athens their cities will be next. The Spartans, however, are too independent and not interested in joining an alliance or the politics that comes with it. To them honour lies in death in a well fought battle so their finest 300 men march north to meet Xerxes's land forces, the story of which, the Battle Of Thermopylae, we see in 300. It is a huge sacrifice and they are unwilling to lose more men to Themistocles's cause.

Themistocles's army, which is set to fight the naval engagement of the war against Artemisia's forces and her superior tactical skills, comprises a handful of career warriors, some of whom fought with him against Darius 10 years previously, and a motley collection of "farmers, poets, and sculptors" who have been assembled from the various Greek city states. Themistocles has some tricks up his sleeve but he's very aware that they won't last forever and then they will be at the mercy of the Persian army, whose land and sea forces are vastly superior and whose men - soldiers and slaves alike - are all completely expendable.

300: Rise Of An Empire

Themistocles is the central character in this movie and unfortunately Sullivan Stapleton doesn't quite have the gravitas needed to play him, especially in the quieter, political parts of the story, the way Gerard Butler did with King Leonidas in 300. He doesn't really seem to be the kind of guy who could inspire the various city states to unite, though on the battlefield he's well suited to the physical action sequences. There are also a few scenes in which his Australian accent accidentally (I presume) leaks through and distracts, which was a surprise as he does a great American accent in the TV series Strike Back. It doesn't really matter, though, because although the eye candy in this film is all about the men, most of whom are in cardboard roles and are sword fodder, the heart of the story lies with the women.

Being the muscle fest that this is there are only two women in the sea of testosterone but, thankfully, they are both strong, interesting characters. Lena Headey makes a welcome return as Queen Gorgo of Sparta, though once again the role is disappointingly small. However she holds her own - with King Leonidas dead, she now commands Sparta and is held in as much regard as her husband was by both the Spartans and the rest of the Greeks. She leads, and they listen, and she plays a very important part in the storyline at crucial moments.

300: Rise Of An Empire

Eva Green, however, is really the star of this movie and is given a meaty role to work with although, as we find out as the story progresses, her character's emotional origins are once again in a stereotypical raze the village moment, followed by a period in which she is a slave who is routinely raped and battered, which was a great disappointment to me and lessened my enthusiasm for the character immensely. Why must a tough female character's origins almost always be centred on rape? It's the storyline men always write when they don't know how to write strong female characters, and it's annoying and insulting. It really destroys the choice for her to be a badass just because she wants to be or because there are complicated political or cultural forces at work that frame her into a certain role in her life.

Nevertheless, if you can put that aside and pretend that the scenes aren't in the film, or something, the character of Artemisia is a great role that gives a woman all the power, and the centre stage, in scene after scene that is otherwise exclusively populated by men.

300: Rise Of An Empire

This movie's source material is, once again, a graphic novel by Frank Miller (Xerxes, which is actually not yet finished) and the filmmakers have put an immense amount of effort into recreating his visual style, and that visceral feeling that you experience as you view his art, through special effects and production design.

The result is, unsurprisingly, stunning. You can see how every moment in every single shot, and every single camera movement, has been carefully thought out and then executed. This is, unashamedly, highly stylised action porn, and, really, there is nothing to do but sit back and enjoy it.

300: Rise Of An Empire

The 3D is effective in some sequences, though never really essential, and I did find myself wondering if it was all applied in post production (some of it was) as it generally felt a bit flat. Having said that, however, it was a welcome change as there are no gimmick moments of, for example, things flying at the audience. Instead, as it should, it subtly enhances scenes instead of overwhelming them. The only moments in which the 3D presentation doesn't work too well is in some of the close-up shots of the physical battles as swinging swords and the occasional limb are cut off by the tight framing of the camera, which breaks the 3D effect and gives it more of a feeling of watching a live-action diarama through a pane of glass.

It's a minor quibble, though. The combined efforts of production designer Patrick Tatopoulos, cinematographer Simon Duggan, the art and set decoration teams, and some of the post-production special effects have resulted in stylisation that is just beautiful, with scenes that are well edited and flow expertly.

300: Rise Of An Empire

The costume design - well, what little costuming there is - is also fantastic. Artemisia, especially, seems to have something different on in almost every scene and each costume captures her character well while still being functional and interesting. I was also pleased to see that in one moment, which is a very brief on-screen shot in which she is in the foreground and is therefore only shown from the chest up, she is dressed in sensible, though subtly feminine, gold-coloured metal armour. All her vital organs are covered and it looks as though it could repel arrows and some light blade knocks. I was disappointed that she didn't wear it again as I really appreciated the thought that the costume designer, Alexandra Byrne, put into it.

For flair and flourish, however, we have the ostentatious getup (for lack of a better word) worn by Xerxes, which is all intricate gold chains and jewellery, a large codpiece (there are a lot of shots in which that is the centrepiece), and flowing, adorned cloaks, all of which combined is really an impractical marvel based directly on Frank Miller's art. The Persians wear imposing, heavy, dark leather - I'm not sure how comfortable and practical that is for a navy - and everyone else runs around in tiny clothing (and sometimes cloaks) so that we can see their abs and biceps. All the costume work is really just extra fun to add to the mix.

300: Rise Of An Empire

Finally the score, by Junkie XL, is lovely and combines heavy percussion with Middle Eastern flair to marry both sides perfectly in one soundscape. I can't say I noticed anything particularly interesting about the sound design but it was exactly what it needed to be. The sound, as is almost always the case, was too loud in the screening cinema so that likely, and unfortunately, destroyed some of the nuances of the audio.

Like 300, 300: Rise Of An Empire is a guilty pleasure that one shouldn't really feel guilty about. It doesn't pretend to be anything that it isn't and when you're watching it it feels as though you are being immersed in an artwork. For me it wasn't quite as good as the original but I still enjoyed it immensely.

300: Rise Of An Empire

300: Rise Of An Empire is written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Frank Miller, is directed by Noam Murro, and stars Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O'Connell, Andrew Tiernan, and Igal Naor.

The review screening was courtesy of Nu Metro.
300: Rise Of An Empire opens on circuit today in both South Africa and the US.

Tags: #screen Opinion
Rating: 7/10

On The Internet
300: Rise Of An Empire: Official Site, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia

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