300: Rise of An Empire

I’ve commented numerous times that Hollywood studios love a sequel, whether it’s warranted or not. For example, bad sequels typically involve a re-tread of the original, a la The Hangover 2. Which leads me to 300: Rise of An Empire. 2006’s 300 was an exhilarating depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae, replete with amazing imagery and strong performances. One would think a sequel would logically pick up where the original left off, but the makers of 300: Rise of An Empire had something different in mind, much to my disappointment.

Writer Zack Snyder (Man of Steel) uses this sequel to tell a parallel storyline overlapping the same time period as the original movie. This seems like a cumbersome storytelling technique, but there was potential for it to be interesting. Snyder reveals Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro, The Last Stand)backstory, providing a glimpse of him before he became the ruthless villain who mercilessly defeated Leonidas. Xerxes’ father Darius was king of Persia, decimating Greek troops through relentless warfare. During one fateful battle, he was killed by the bow of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, Gangster Squad), a fearless Athenian determined to unite all of Greece. Upon witnessing his father’s demise, Xerxes became hell-bent on exacting revenge upon Themistocles and any city-state that threatened Persia.

Enter Artemisia (Eva Green, Casino Royale), a fierce Persian warrior who harbors a venomous hatred for Greece. It was Greeks who raped and pillaged her childhood home, viciously marring her childhood and deeply sowing a seed of revenge that would come to define her. Left for dead, she was taken in by an older Persian warrior who trained her in battle. She displayed a natural ferocity and skill, becoming a formidable fighter. By the time she came of age, Artemisia had earned the favor of ill-fated King Darius. She was placed in command of the Persian army, though she served at Xerxes’ pleasure.

The movie is told largely from Themistocles’ perspective, as he tries to defeat Persia with the help of Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey, The Purge), Leonidas’ widow. She is reluctant to provide Spartan soldiers for battle, though Themistocles must amass a sizeable army to compete with the Persians. Eventually she lends the manpower, and Themistocles leads the charge against Persia, not to avenge Leonidas, but to unite Greece in defeat of a common enemy.

I don’t know how or why Zack Snyder allowed such a decline in quality between the original 300 and this sequel, but most aspects of the movie, which I viewed in 3D, disappointed me. The special effects were visually entertaining, but they became trite and felt gimmicky after a while. For example, it’s fine to use slow-mo effects to add emphasis, but overuse of the technique lessens the impact and the device becomes trite. The adversarial positioning of Themistocles and Artemisia was effective from a character standpoint, and they had excellent chemistry. One particular scene where they engaged in a rough romp was awkwardly entertaining, but ultimately the movie was not satisfying. Don’t waste your time. Grade: C

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