300: Rise of an Empire review

If there’s one thing I didn’t expect to be in a “300” movie, it was bored.

The film “300: Rise of an Empire,” takes place before, during and after the events of the original “300.” Instead of focusing on the Spartans again, this film focuses on Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton.

Themistokles is an Athenian leading a small group of ships to combat the Persian navy, commanded by Artemisia, played by Eva Green. For the most part, like the original movie, everything plays out in a sort of “David vs. Goliath” manner.

In terms of plot structure, “Empire” comes off as a mess. The film takes too much time focusing on characters’ backgrounds and exposition to start off with. It just takes way too much time to actually get into the movie, unlike the first “300,” which knew how to get to the point.

This led to the movie being boring for a while, not exactly what an audience should expect out of this kind of flick. As things moved forward into the second and third acts, though, despite actually having some battles, the film’s pacing still felt off. So much so, that the film practically ends abruptly, right when it looks like things are going to finally get good.

It might have helped if the film was a true sequel to “300.” Maybe the first half hour could have been dedicated to the naval battle and then what happened next, like at the Battle of Plataea. The battle that was hinted at in the first movie? Instead, the story just felt awkward.

Stapleton really tries his best with the material he’s given in “300: Rise of an Empire,” carrying the movie on his back. However, he doesn’t have the screen presence Gerard Butler brought to the first film.

Sadly, out of all the warriors fighting for Greece, Stapleton was the only memorable performance. Despite the film’s efforts – including a rather lame subplot about a father and son fighting together on the battlefield – I found myself not caring about any of the other characters.

One performance that should get recognition, though, is Eva Green. She does her best in giving a menacing presence to the picture. She was a bit more cool and calculating than Xerxes, which made for an overall better antagonist.

Unfortunately, for all the actors in the movie, the writing was very poor, mostly noticeable in the lame dialogue the characters used throughout. On top of that, there were some jokes that fell flat, having too much of a self-awareness to them. It was as if new director Noam Murro was nudging me with his elbow, saying ‘hey, see what I did there?’

The worst part of the whole movie, though, was it just wasn’t exciting. There were only a few battles, most of them coming at sea, and they were just OK.

Plus, there was too much CGI blood in the movie. Gallons of the pixilated red liquid were thrown on the screen. It becomes desensitizing and gets old after a while. This was a factor where the film could have benefited from some more practical effects for the blood.

Speaking of getting old after a while, even the combat wasn’t anything special. By now, the slow down-speed up filming original director Zack Snyder made popular is all over the place and the combat itself isn’t better choreographed than the first movie.

The original “300” felt like lightning in a bottle where a lot of things went right. This time, it feels like the filmmakers tried to throw together the same things and recapture what the original did. At its best, the most the movie can offer are some cool visuals. Part 2 of “300” gets a 2 out of 5.

This review was first published in the March 7, 2014 issue of the Wahpeton Daily News.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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