I hadn’t been too bothered to go and see the new “300” film, but I’m pleased I did. I only watched the original “300” some time after the event, and found it fairly uninteresting, though its impact in the creation of similar blokey gorefest films and TV series hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Unusually, “300: Rise of an empire” serves as both a prequel, sequel and accompanying story to “300”, the events of the latter playing out off-screen during the film. It gives much more depth to the film, a bigger picture than “300” painted. It follows the career of (decidedly Aussie) Greek general and master tactician Thermistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), starting from the moment he became a legend, killing the king of the oncoming Persian army (father of God-King Xerxes).
On the flip-side we get to see the making of Xerxes (sexy Rodrigo Santoro), from grieving son to re-made, supernatural golden God. This also introduces the main antagonist to Thermistocles, the devastating beauty and commander of the Navy, Artimicia (Eva Green). We are narrated through the back story by the dependably brilliant Lena Headey, reprising her role as Queen Gorgo of the Spartans in role that it too small, but she owns every minute of screentime.
While the ending left a rather large door open for another sequel, I felt the film was well-paced and thrilling, even when there’s no fighting going on. That’s another thing, they almost parody the use of blood by (I think) making it deliberately unconvincing. It allows for the film to appreciate its own aesthetic without the burden of being too fixated on the blood.
The fighting sequences were immaculately planned out, thought it never threatens to take over the whole film. The visuals too, there were plenty of striking images, and while some of the locations felt a bit bland, others (such as the starry night at sea) looked incredible, as did the endless parade of set-pieces. The music too, the hints of traditional Greek instruments gave a great spin on an otherwise standard blockbuster score.
The shortage of main characters made the plot easy to follow; or maybe it was just that the magnetic Eva Green’s Artimicia and her chemistry with Thermistocles was so absorbing, as they fought to achieve their battle goals. The bewildering array of washboard stomachs didn’t hurt either.
While “300” is likely to be the one with a most lasting impact, I feel “300: Rise of an empire” could have stood as a film on its own, and that’s something rare for a pre/sequel, especially in this genre.