300: Rise of an Empire doesn’t match its predecessor’s manic energy and more self-contained storytelling, but ends up being a sufficiently entertaining romp through mythical legends. What made the original 300 such a success was its inventive action style; like the story or not, the movie provided a gripping enough central character who boasted now infamous lines about Sparta and plenty of blood and gore to please fans of the comic. The newest feature follows Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who is a Greek general that leads the charge against the invading Persian army fronted by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). The latter is a mortal-turned-god that gets some development here to establish how he became king. Legend says his father was killed by Themistokles firing an arrow across the waters as the king thought he had escaped the battle. Xerxes is looking for revenge. Leading his naval front is Artemisia (Eva Green), a vengeful woman that seems power-hungry and pretty much chews scenery every chance she can get.
The story is a prequel-sequel, with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) telling her army of how the Greeks fought the Persians after her beloved king’s army was defeated. The movie relies heavily on the parallel storytelling and flashbacks to develop its new characters, with the looks into Xerxes and Artemisia providing substantial character motivation and development. The movie’s mostly full of filler in between the impressively shot battle sequences, with the visual cues remaining consistent to the Zack Synder’s work in the first film. Noam Murro, the director here, doesn’t try to make it his own film, but shoots with a bit more restraint, particularly in a remarkably choreographed long take battle on a ship. The 3D isn’t very inspired, making the film murkier. Yet Eva Green’s turn is one of the more exhilarating, fun performances to come along in a mainstream action film, providing a manic, depraved, senseless, and all-around badass female figure.
The movie’s ultimately bogged down by its exposition. It’s difficult to follow which characters belong to what parts of divided Greece, or whether the movie even cares about its mythological roots anymore and wants to commit to all-out action-packed storytelling. There’s something amusing about a film that follows the formula of the first one to an almost exact science yet infuses enough new elements to make it work. It’s reminiscent of The Hangover Part II if that one were actually successful. 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t anything more than a placeholder for fans that wanted more violence from the original and a stronger female presence. Frankly, that latter element makes the movie shine. But the ending is familiar and vague, ending in the midst of a battle that undoubtedly sets up for a third film. If they can find more people to add to this formula and allow for even more debauchery and mayhem, maybe these movies can keep being fun adventures.
Grade: ★★★ (out of 5)