Review: 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE

“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 Thermopylae.

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 time around.

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.