Directed: Noam Murro
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro
When life deals you men in kilts, you might as well enjoy the thighs. Particularly when there are so many of them, jumping with ridiculously healthy grace off heights into certain death — just in case you missed the rippling muscles.
Is 300 redux as portending of history? No. Does it wear its ethereal quality as loyally to convey a legend in the making? No. Does it tell its story as effectively? No again. 300 director Zack Snyder returns as screenwriter in this Noam Murro-directed effort, again based on a Frank Miller graphic novel, but Rise of an Empire has a harder template given that it’s centred on turbulent, choppy waters rather than a narrow pass on land. You have to take the energetic shouting and stalking around on deck to figure out what’s going on beyond.
Rise of an Empire is not a sequel, and it couldn’t be given that all the 300 Spartans died their “beautiful deaths” in the previous film. That problem is easily sidestepped by making this a “meanwhile” story, the other battle that was waging between the Greeks and the Persians as Leonidas took on Xerxes at Thermopylae.
The most interesting aspect of this, or so it is with a slight tweaking of the facts, is that the Persian naval forces are commanded by the ferocious Artemisia (Green). She is the best naval commander around and as adept at beheading rivals as 300 commands of its warriors — Rise of an Empire has her go one further, holding up a soldier’s butchered head and kissing it full on the mouth.
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With demands of suchlike made of her, Green floats through her flotilla smouldering-eyed, gnashing her teeth and spatting out her lines, bathed in righteous vengeance. In front of this, as well as her sword play and all that spurting blood — no lesser than 300 — her naval skills are undecipherable.
Her rival and the commander of the Greek ships, Themistokles (Stapleton), fares better, is sober, caring, fatherly, and witty to boot. Plus, he gets all those lines about fighting for democracy, freedom, and all its chaos, against tyranny and its regimented order. Heck, even Artemisia’s heart skips a beat. We know, we can see it.
The look of the film, with its ochre and dark-blue shades, its larger-than-life skies, and its dangerous Aegean sea, is evocative of the novel and the other 300. The difference is that Rise of the Empire doesn’t seem interested in telling a story as much as ramming it down our visual senses. But do cut limbs and chopped heads make a body?