“Let it be shown, that we chose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees.”
300 Rise of an Empire stormed into theaters a few weeks ago to a warm reception, achieving box office success right from the start. It is the sequel to the 2006 sleeper hit, 300. The term sequel is used very loosely in this context. Yes, it is a sequel in the sense that it is the sophomore outing in the 300 franchise, but as far as being a pure sequel in the timeline of the story, not so much. Rise of an Empire serves as a sequel, prequel and a parallel story to the original. That may sound like ingredients for a hard to follow film, but rest assured, it is not. Rise of an Empire makes the distinctions of what point in time they are in seamlessly and clearly.
The majority of the film takes place in 480 B.C. Greece and chronicles the famous Battle of Salamis, where a small Greek navy consisting of a few hundred ships attempted to hold off a much larger, better equipped Persian fleet of over a thousand boats. To combat the overwhelming Persian vessels, the Greeks had to rely more on strategy and cunning rather than sheer, brute force. Leading the lesser trained Greek fleet, and providing the majority of their tactics, was the inspiring and brave hearted Athenian general, Themistocles, played by Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton. Themistocles is largely driven by the love of his country and his dream of a united Greece and Stapleton fit into the role like a glove, breathing life into the historic hero and displaying the characters aspirations brilliantly on the big screen. Throughout the film, Themistocles gives several inspiring speeches to his men before the heat of battle and each one contains a great quote – like the one that opened this article – and an entire report could be written using just the motivating lines from the film, but the main point Themistocles hammers into his soldiers is the concept of fighting for a free country and the sense of freedom itself.
Opposing the Greeks and the head of the Persian Empire is Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who was also the main antagonist in the first 300, but plays a much larger role in Rise of an Empire. He is still trying to expand his kingdom, which he claims is the best the world has ever known, but continues to run into roadblocks from the Greeks who refuse to surrender their freedom to the Persians. The audience also gets to see how Xerxes was transformed from prince to “god-king” in a very content-filled flashback scene.
Commanding Xerxes navy is the beautifully wicked Artemisia, played by Eva Green (Dark Shadows, Casino Royale) who gives the most memorable performance of the film. Artemisia’s brutal cruelness, decisiveness, intelligence, and intense determination to stop at nothing to crush the Greek forces make her a villainess viewers will remember for years to come. There is also a glimpse into Artemisia’s past where the audience comes to understand why she has such a burning hatred for Greece.
With these two forces going head to head for most of the picture, viewers would expect some great battle scenes, and they are rewarded. The first 300 has a particularly unique feel that many films have attempted to replicate, but none have done so successfully. The stylistic nature the movie is shot in compliments the camera angles, the extended single shot scenes, and the slowing down and speeding up of the action bring back the familiar feel that 300 popularized. That brings up the battle sequences; which were just purely awesome, there’s no other word for it, the choreography and variation of the fights combined with the spectacular visuals made them a pure joy to watch and the film itself visually breathtaking journey. Although the director of the first 300, Zack Snyder who directed 2013’s summer superhero blockbuster Man of Steel, did not direct Rise of an Empire, he stayed on as a producer and also co-wrote the screenplay and he handed the reins over to Noam Murro who is new to helming the action genre, but nonetheless, did a praiseworthy job.
Here is the bottom line: if you like action movies, if you like movies about heroes, or if you just want to see some visceral action and great fights, than 300 Rise of an Empire is definitely not a movie to be missed. Do yourself a favor and see it. Though I would recommend seeing it with a group of guys; great guy movie, not a great date movie.