I was a big fan of 300 and our introduction to Zack Snyder’s style and I was a little disappointed when I heard the sequel was being directed by the guy who did Smart People. Smart People was a fine enough film, but Noam Murro’s leap to a stylized action driven franchise like 300 is trying to become seemed like a stretch. Luckily, Snyder was on board in a writing/producing capacity and they were able to faithfully recreate the style of the original.
It’s unfortunate that they couldn’t fill the film with a cast or characters on par with the original and as a result you never can get pulled into the picture. I didn’t care who won these battles and that was made especially hard because the villains were the best part of the film. The Xerxes’ origin story was a cool sequence and Eva Green as Artemisia is the only engaging thing in the entire movie. Eva Green owns this thing and is having an absolute blast hamming it up and chewing scenery in a gloriously over the top performance. She fights a guy with sex in the movie, that’s how game she is. She even kicks ass in the fight sequences she gets. More Artemisia!
The rest of the cast, that aren’t holdovers from the first film, are as interesting as cardboard and it doesn’t help that the script gives nobody anything interesting to say. Sullivan Stapleton is just so eh in the lead (Gerard Butler exudes more charisma in his wordless flashes from the original film than Stapleton does in this film’s entirety) and it doesn’t help that there are no good actors around him. 300 had Dominic West and Lena Headey dueling in Sparta, while Butler had David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Tom Wisdom and Michael Fassbender (!) filling memorable roles surrounding him. Stapleton gets the goatee guy who stares blankly in close up every time they cut to him.
Luckily, Stapleton and his cardboard cut outs rarely stop to talk and don’t do much else but fight. Viewers coming to this looking for action will not be disappointed as the film is full of a variety of set pieces. Naval battles, sword fights, cavalry fights, sex fights, you get just about everything you can imagine here. Most of the action is very coherent, the speed ramping is in glorious effect and there are a couple of long take fights around Stapleton that are really impressive. The blood seems even more over the top and CGI’y this time, but it fits the aesthetic of the film and it stopped being a distraction after the first scene or two. As an action movie, you won’t be disappointed; if only we cared about the characters in the middle of it.
300: Rise of an Empire is exactly what you expect it to be, but it lost the characters and connections that made the action in the first film resonate; even when you knew the dire outcome. The cast is weak on the Greek side of thing, but thankfully Eva Green is memorable as the over the top villain. It’s not up to par with the original, but I can’t imagine fans being that disappointed. Bring on the sequel with Wenham and Headey in starring roles.
300: Rise of an Empire is a C+