“Meanwhile, elsewhere in Greece…” is the premise of 300:
RISE OF AN EMPIRE. Not so much what happened next, but the bigger story going
on in the rest of the nation before, during and after Gerard Butler and his
band of Spartans got their dramatically outnumbered arses handed to them at
Our hero this time is the Athenian, Themistocles (Sullivan
Stapleton) who slays Persian king Darius, leading to Darius’ son Xerxes
literally (and conveniently) reinventing himself as a 15ft tall golden
‘God-king’ before returning to Greece with his merciless naval commander
Artemisia (Eva Green) - who similarly has some very deep-seeded revenge against
the entire Greek population in mind.
Stylistically, RISE OF AN EMPIRE marries very successfully
to the original 300, with all of the successes of the first film intact, and
even some improvements. Whatever you may think of comic book writer/artist
Frank Miller, he’s still one of the best and most stylish in his field, and
invariably RISE OF AN EMPIRE’s finest moments are obviously faithful
recreations of panels from Miller’s not-yet-released book serving as
storyboards (see: an unconscious Themistocles and bits of Athenian warship
drifting to the bottom of the sea after a particularly costly miscalculation,
lit by flaming oil on the waterline above). The CG blood is still there, but
with a mandate for violence even stronger than the first film, each spurt,
splat and chunk of gore is deployed with greater creativity and artistry this
Special mention too, for the excellent 3D; the continued use
of almost entirely green screen environments enables a great deal of control
over objects in 3D (much the same as AVATAR), and the artists and technicians
have done a bang-up job.
If only script and storytelling received the same attention.
Director Noam Murro gets lost in the tsunami of set pieces, losing sight of all
but the most basic brush strokes of the bigger picture. It’s a particular shame,
given the amount of narrative drive RISE OF AN EMPIRE HAS has in comparison to
its predecessor, but between the myriad flying cameras gliding across
battlegrounds and relentless over/undercranking of virtually every bit of
weapon-on-body contact, we’re left not with an exciting movie full of engrossing
twists and developments, but what feels too often like a plot made of hackneyed
video game cut-scenes, almost defying you to care about the story until the
next action scene arrives.
The nadir is when anyone speaks - which as you can imagine,
is quite often. Whether any given audience member finds the dialogue of Zack
Snyder’s script to be rancid ham or a delightful cheese buffet will be very
much down their mood, but be warned – he gives George Lucas on a bad day a run
for his money, and no-one gets away clean.
Despite this, the performers struggle through what must have
been referred to on set as the ‘talking bits’ as best they can. Green walks
away with the most memorable turn, even if that does include possibly the most
ludicrous sex scene you will see this year. Stapleton meanwhile, gets the sharp
end of the spear – a lead role that gives back very little, and certainly provides
no career-launching “THIS IS SPARTA!” moment.
RISE OF AN EMPIRE will likely divide audiences by their
attention span; an experience that is exciting and absorbing in the moment, but
only memorable any time after leaving your seat for a few ‘that bit where’s,
rather than as a satisfying whole.
300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is released March 6 in Australia and New Zealand, and March 7 in the UK and USA.