Among our favorite films is the festival of gore and nudity known as 300 - it launched the careers of Actors Lena Headey and Gerard Butler, and made Zack Snyder an over-night household directorial name. We'd never seen anything like it before, and Hollywood responded by trying to duplicate its success to no avail. With the long-overdue release of 300: Rise of an Empire, we realize the sometimes the best way to duplicate success is to do it yourself.
After the death of King Leonidas' 300, the Persian Army marches towards the various and disunited city-states, targeting Athens herself. While King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) assaults the first democratic city in Europe, the brutal naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) sets her eyes northward to Admiral Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who uses brilliant tactics to frustrate and upend Artemisia's plans. But, he'll need the land superiority of the Spartans, led by Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) if he is to repel the Persian invasion. As the naval war moves towards a bloody showdown, Xerxes awaits victory, while Themistokles dreams of a united Greece.
Rise is not only a sequel and a prequel but a side-quel, existing along the same timeline as the original. Even still, one would be advised to not compare the two films, but celebrate a brilliant method of story-telling. As the events of the Spartans unfold in the South, Director Noam Murro takes us north to see how the Athenians fare against Artemisia and Xerxes. He places several excellent 300 anchor points throughout his version, while dropping in old cast members like David Wenham and Andrew Pleavin after Leonidas's death. Stapleton comes into his own as the hardened commander Themistokles - he's the right leader for a fledgling Greek response, and his impassioned speeches counterbalance the suicidal ones which Leonidas so magnificently uttered. Rather than re-assume the helm, Snyder returns to pen and produce the follow-up, upping the stylized violence and introducing a sly wit to Ancient Greece, while imbuing his female leads with plenty of angst and ability. The always excellent Headey seems like she never left the role, expertly showing us both grieving wife and vengeful queen.
But Rise is Eva Green's film, and she excels both as a action-flick dominatrix and in her ability to instill total fear in her men. In the film's climactic ending, she leaps upon the deck of an Athenian ship shouting, "I will not be an observer!" She certainly isn't one, happy one minute to slice and dice her way through traitors and Greek sailors, and ecstatic to rough-house with Stapleton in one of the best foreplay scenes you'll ever see. Murro ups not only the incredible action but also the epic nature of its battles and the simple lives of the Athenians, finally demonstrating that 3D can be effective in today's live-action flicks. The history here is a bit flimsy, but if you were planning on seeing something more accurate, you'll want to look elsewhere. Others might leave feeling they could have benefited from bringing a tarp with them to mop up all the crimson spillage, but that's just one layer of a story that you should enjoy for what it is.
An orgy of bloody warfare and overtly nude female leads, 300: Rise of An Empire brashly makes no qualms about its purpose. From its beginning, you know what you're getting, and we're fine with that. In a time when competitors fill our screens with poor results, we think this one's an admirable sequel, an insightful prequel, and an impressive side-quel. You might do well to revisit the original afterwards, but keep your expectations in check or you might be disappointed in this very enjoyable follow-up. 300: Rise of An Empire is rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language, and has a runtime of 102 minutes. Huzzah!
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