300: Rise of an Empire is more of a side-quel to 300 than a sequel as it takes place at the same time. I think it would be interesting to see the two edited together as one movie. It brings back a lot of the cast from the original movie, like Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro, as well as adding Sullivan Stapleton as the Athenian hero Themistokles and Eva Green as the Persian warlord Artemisia. While Xerxes is attacking the Spartans, Artemisia leads a naval fleet to battle the Athenians. Themistokles tries to unite the city states of Greece but they cannot come to terms, so he is left with only his small Athenian troops and his wits against the might of the Persian fleet.
While 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t directed by Zack Snyder it does retain a similar style, so expect lots of super slo-mo shots. This one also felt more colorful than 300. Snyder did have a hand in the script though, and while I loved the dialogue it was exposition heavy. Queen Gorgo (Headey) narrates the film as she tells her Spartans of what has happened but….they should really know this already. And she spends the whole film doing this! Like…were they all just standing around for hours listening to her waffle on about the things they already knew? There was a LOT of exposition in the first part of the film, especially as they had to fill in Artemisia’s life story as well as background about Athens and the circumstances that led to Xerxes invading Greece.
There are also a few plot holes, for example in once scene Artemisia is said to have magical powers and actually uses them to influence Xerxes, but there’s no mention of them in the rest of the film, not even when she’s in direct confrontation with Themistokles, and you think her powers would have come in handy then.
However, despite all that the film is very badass with lots of decapitations and spurting blood. I loved the use of 3D here, especially when the blood splattered over the camera, it was all very gruesome. The action was brutal and intense as you’d expect, and I enjoyed the naval battles as it’s not something you tend to see in films anymore. More please, Hollywood. It was especially unusual because there weren’t any cannons or guns, so I found it refreshing.
The casting was excellent. I enjoyed Sullivan Stapleton’s performance as Themistokles. He had the required brooding authority to carry the burden of heroism but the one who stole the show was Eva Green. She was incredible as Artemisia, giving the character some depth as well as theatrical villainy. One of my favourite moments was when she decapitated a soldier and then kissed his severed head. It was so over-the-top and the kind of thing that I find grotesquely fun. I’d love to see her play more villains, and based on this performance I think she would be perfect as a Sith. As well as commanding her soldiers she also displayed good skills with swords and she really shone. I almost hope that they make another movie just based on her character.
I think you’ll mostly know whether you’re going to like this movie before you watch it or not. If you enjoyed 300 then this is more of the same. If you don’t like blood and stylized violence then it’s not for you. I thought it was cool and can overlook the flaws. The ending implied that there will be another one, and I’m not sure how I feel about that because usually I hate it when films sequel-bait, however I don’t think it came at the detriment to the story of this film.