300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

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The helmet was good protection, but it did get a little bit sweaty.
The helmet was good protection, but it did get a little bit sweaty.

Twitter Plot Summary: It’s prequel/sidequel/sequel time as more fighting takes place in ancient Greece. Six packs mandatory.

Five Point Summary:

1. Xerxes. Big and gold.
2. It’s 300 on a boat!
3. A not at all sexy sexy fight/love scene. Amusing, more like.
4. Rousing “This is our Independence Day” style speech.
5. Let battle commence!

Some 8 years after we first encounter King Leonidas and his penchant for kicking messengers down wells, sequel 300: Rise of an Empire toddles along and tries to remind us exactly why speed ramping and gloriously over the top CGI battles and glistening pectorals were all the rage in 2006. Those pectorals and six packs are back for another trip round the block as we see events before, during and after those seen in Zack Snyder’s 300, in a sort of confusing prequel/side-quel/sequel mashup.

Whilst Gerard Butler and his 300 Spartans block one aspect of the Persian assault, a naval attack is also underway further north. These Greek forces are led by General Themistokles, an expert tactician who finds himself at the head of a ragtag army intent on stopping the Persian advance led by the psychotic femme fatale Artemesia. But before any of that takes place we go back to the very beginning, establishing why Artemisia hates Greece so passionately, and how Xerxes became a God. Sadly it doesn’t do this very well, and the exposition is so verbose that you almost expect the entire film to be told in the form of voice over narrative. On occasion it doesn’t feel too far off from this. The speed ramping too is used overindulgently, with whole sequences slowed down for an almost inexorable period of time before returning to normal speed.

Sullivan Stapleton is serviceable as the hero Themistokles, although he has about as much charisma as a drab painting of a car park. There’s a running theme of male impotence that follows his every move. He’s a poor man’s King Leonidas, strong in battle but will always come in second place in a Tale of the Tape style comparison. Whilst tactically brilliant, this only extends to naval battles. The only time he really has vigour is when he’s cutting people up in battle – make of that what you will.

Mad as a box of frogs.
Mad as a box of frogs.

It’s really Eva Green’s show to steal though, her performance as psycho general Artemisia is impressive and deserving of a far better love interest/rival than is provided by Themistokles. A fight/love scene between the pair threatens to be entertaining but ultimately proves to be a slightly embarrassing couple of minutes, emphasised by the blatant female nudity (although it is Eva Green, to be fair) contrasted with the almost Austin Powers- esque need to cover up Stapleton’s man bits. By comparison, Lena Headey remains entirely covered up in her role as Queen Gorgo, although seeing as her appearances mostly follow the death of her husband that does actually make sense.

Those expecting a film as enjoyable as the first may well be disappointed. With that said, it’s nowhere near as bad as it could have been, and has at least been handled with a modicum of skill. There are unfortunately a number of pitfalls that it can’t recover from, so whilst it’s certainly entertaining on the whole and has vast swathes of silliness, it lacks the flair and style that made the original such good fun.

Score: 3/5

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