In order for us, the viewers, to understand the appeal and validity of 300: Rise Of An Empire, it is important to remember its roots. If you bear the original in mind, and then ask yourself what progress has been made in the form of storytelling, visual invention, direction, action and scripting betwenn this and that, then you might start to form an answer as to why this is not as great as some have claimed, all on your own.
Telling partly the same story as the original film, but changing the perspective is a nice idea, if for no other reason than the possibility of maybe witnessing something previously unseen from Leonidus’ adventures the last time around. Unfortunately, there is no new appearance from Gerard Butler here, but many of the previous cast do make welcome returns. Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo, to the now ex-King Leonidus, is just as beautiful, bullish, stubborn and independently oligarchical as ever, but probably features even less than the first outing. David Wenham is back again as Dilios, the one that got away, returning to Sparta to tell the tales of valour, courage and sacrifice that the original three hundred achieved in their battle with the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who is also back, having flesh added to a character that was sorely lacking a backstory the first time around.
But the real focus of this new adventure (or new version of an old story with added opinion) concentrates on the leader of the Athenian fleet. Yes, ladies and gentlemen please welcome Sullivan Stapleton, as the difficult to pronounce and even trickier to spell Themistocles. And any new hero really needs a new adversary, so as if fighting the entire Persian Army and a King (who is also a God, don’t forget), we are introduced to the testicle-shrivelling Artemisia played by Eva Green. Artemisia, the real power behind Xerxes’ throne is rampant, driven, single-minded and extremely dangerous. Femme fatales don’t come much more ‘fatale’ than this here bitch from hell.
But for all of the new faces and mostly welcome old ones, what is it we really have here? The same comic-book stylised battles, ad-infinitum, slow-motion death throes, spattered scarlet aplenty, interspersed with rousing speeches and verbal sparring. Like its parent, Rise Of An Empire is beautful to look at and a grand and glorious in scale and intent. But strip from it the eye-candy, which is incase we forget, the real appeal of the original, we are left with a passable script and less enthralling acting than before. Eva Green’s performance as Artemisia is probably the most interesting, if not the most rounded. Lena Headey’s return as Gorgo is the most fulfilling, but she has the fortunate happenstance of not having to carry the entire film on her shoulders. Aussie Stapleton however, is responsible for the rise or fall of his fleet and the film and honestly, you have to question whether he has the same presence as the formidable Butler as Leonidus. There will be no ‘THIS IS SPARTA!!’ quotes this time around, I’d wager.
In summary, an average return that thankfully doesn’t undewhelm visually, but fails to really add anything but previously missing plot holes in a story we have already seen before. With some interesting, if not altogether satisfying characters, Rise Of An Empire is a sickly thrill a minute, but like a decent sweet and sour chicken, you’ll probably be hungry again in half an hour.