DIRECTOR: Noam Murro

CAST: Eva Green, Sullivan Stapleton, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell, Andrew Tiernan, Yigal Naor, Andrew Pleavin, Ben Turner, Ashraf Barhom, Christopher Sciueref

RUNNING TIME: 102 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: While the 300 Spartans go up against the Persian army, a naval fleet led by Athens’ Themistocles (Stapleton) do battle with the Persian fleet as led by the dangerous Artemisia (Green)…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

In a bit of false advertising, 300: Rise of an Empire isn’t a sequel to Zack Snyder’s CG homoerotic gore-fest. Or at least, it isn’t just a sequel as they’re so claiming it to be.

It’s also briefly a prequel – beginning narration tells us the backstory of effeminate Persian “God King” Xerxes (once again played by Rodrigo Santoro) before he’s swept to the sides for most of the rest of the movie – and, more dominantly, a side-quel with events here occurring alongside the events of the first 300. At least it gives itself a vague reason to feel a little like a retread because it is happening at the same time as the first, but does it restrain itself enough to make it a standalone film?

From what one hears, viewing of the first film is more or less essential if one is to understand some of the references and sometimes even the stylistic choices made here. Because so much is happening on and off screen, it’s difficult to pick up on anything unless you understand the context. In that regard, 300: Rise of an Empire doesn’t do its job as a sequel that continues the established story but rather adds to one that already exists, and the constant references to the first film only serve to remind us of that film’s huge worldwide appeal and nothing that adds to this follow-up’s integrity. Call-backs to iconic moments such as the ill-fated Persian messenger at that film’s start and the Spartans’ stand at the Hot Gates which serves as its climax are mentioned in passing dialogue – of which there is an alarmingly large amount in this movie, alarming because dialogue was never really 300’s greatest strength – and as such take away this film’s ability to stand on its own.

However, if there is one element of 300: Rise of an Empire that DOES separate it from its predecessor, it’s Eva Green’s fearless presence as antagonist Artemisia. Her first appearance in a major Hollywood film – hell, ANY film, period – since Tim Burton’s disastrous Dark Shadows, Green has the time of her life in this role and as such delivers a performance that’s surprisingly compelling and engaging. Probably the only character in the entire film to be given a legitimate backstory – sorry Xerxes, your walking-into-a-pool-and-emerging-bald-for-some-reason shtick doesn’t warrant legitimacy in our eyes – her Artemisia is oozing with charisma, complex emotion and domineering sexuality with that much-desired third dimension that would have probably been lost had another actress portrayed her. Not to mention she gets one of the most insane sex/fight scenes put to film in recent memory which is, like Green’s committed performance, well worth the ticket price alone.

Green’s standout presence, however, does not do the remaining cast members any favours. While she does share a great chemistry with Sullivan Stapleton’s protagonist Themistocles, Stapleton isn’t given as much meat to chew off of and despite his best efforts cannot help but come off as a lesser version of Gerard Butler’s Leonidas. The same, too, goes for any new character on the hero side, including Jack O’Connell (later to be seen this month in breakout film Starred Up) and Callan Mulvey as the father-son soldiers whose dramatic story beats we’ve seen many times before. Even those returning from the first film are not given as much a look-in, including Lena Headey as Spartan Queen Gorgo whose only job seems to be delivering story exposition and not much else.

The action heavily resembles its predecessor including all the moments of gore and slow-motion we’ve come to expect, and new director Noam Murro does an OK job in copying Snyder’s CG-heavy style-over-substance manner even if some parts do end up looking like levels from a PS4 video game. But then again, when has the world of 300 and now 300: Rise of an Empire never looked like a macho video game?

SO, TO SUM UP…

300: Rise of an Empire doesn’t entirely manage to shake off the mark left by its popular predecessor, with references to it coming left and right that take away this sequel’s integrity and reminding us of how effective that film was. However, Eva Green’s fantastic performance as Artemisia saves it from total redundancy and makes it far more watchable than once feared, and the stylised if romanticised action makes it an entertaining joy.