- Warner Bros.
By Brian Burlage, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 9, 2014
At the conclusion of what must be one of the blandest pre-battle addresses ever recorded on film, Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, “Gangster Squad”) cries with drama but without conviction, “Seize your glory!” — as though the scribes of history patiently await their victory. The Greek word for this kind of unwavering arrogance is hubris; difficult to establish and even more difficult to later disregard, hubris is a catalyst for self-implosion. It destroys from within. Success builds on success, blurring logic, masking failure, until infallibility becomes the only worthy objective. Director Noam Murro’s (“Smart People”) “300: Rise of an Empire” falls victim to its own hubris. With the effort so desperate and the story so focused on delivering the perfect tale of masculinity and war, the film’s sole objective actually becomes a blueprint for failure.
300: Rise of an Empire
Warner Bros. Pictures
Rave and Quality 16
The film’s story runs concurrently (it’s not so much a sequel or a prequel to 2007’s “300”) with the Spartan-Greek effort against the Persians at Thermopylae and also on the naval conflict between Greek and Persian fleets. Themistocles, general of the Greeks and renowned politician, believes that a new political framework called “democracy” can unite a divided Greece. He’s willing to go to war against the Persians to prove it. Vastly outnumbered and lacking support from much of his own nation, he utilizes his characteristic cunning to deceive and belay the onslaught of the herculean Persian navy.
Artemisia (Eva Green, “Casino Royale”) commands the Persian force. She’s a brutal, manipulative and dominating leader whose power of intimidation escapes no one. Make a tactical error and she’ll tie stone braces to your arms and heave you into the depths. Hold steady eye contact with her and she’ll plunge a dagger into your gut. Green delivers a convincing performance as the intense, power-hungry queen of moral depravity. Her tendency to err on instinct rather than emotion contributes to the warrior mentality of her character. Green leaves no room for sympathy or affection — Artemisia is as cold as the blade she so skillfully wields.
“Rise of an Empire” will appease viewers if they think of it like the able-bodied, fully functional sidekick to the real hero, the Zack Snyder-directed original “300.” Because of its less-than-enthralling fight sequences, perennial talk of war and politics and overall lack of personality, “300: Rise of an Empire” seems more anecdotal than essential. Even though it depicts a parallel story to the Battle of Thermopylae, the film really feels like an afterthought of Zack Snyder and company, who thought it might be really cool to make a movie about ancient naval warfare.
With every slash of the sword, a stream of blood trails across the screen. Every warrior is an acrobat, every strategic decision a do-or-die plot against destiny. The film begins and ends in the same instance of violence: Soldiers charging, clashing, grappling, smiting each other, tossing bloodied carcasses into the briny Aegean sea. Everything in between is a remonstrance of former wars and rivalries, complemented by scenes of aggravated sexual intensity, vengeance and historical context. The whole effort feels contrived — carefully wrought from the minds of executives who wanted to outdo an already rambunctious depiction of Greek mythology and war.
But while the film may sometimes be self-indulgent, single-minded and even sloppy to achieve its end, it still thrives within the context of its genre. After all, graphic novels should be over-the-top. A film based on a comic based on loose accounts of a fantastical war should be allowed to exaggerate some details. Is a film about 300 men defending their country in the face of imminent death interesting? Absolutely. Is a film about the simultaneous naval effort of undaunted, politically driven Greeks necessary? Not really. But is it entertaining? You betcha.