300: Rise Of An Empire (2014) Review

300riseofanempireA belated follow-up to 2006’s “300”, this part prequel/ part ‘side-quel’/ sort of sequel by necessity discards much of the principle cast of the first film to focus on events in the rest of Greece around the time of the Battle of Thermopylae.

Cobbling together a handful of sort of related historical events and taping the bundle together with huge amounts of artistic licence, “Rise Of An Empire” sees Greek leader Themistocles rally the various city states to band together and inflict a naval defeat on Persian God-King Xerxes (while his army burns Athens to the ground).

Unfortunately, where the original had a strongly defined narrative flow, this muddled sequel comes across as little more than badly written “300” fan fiction. While the original trod a fine line between style and substance, this distinctly lightweight (the narrative flow isn’t the only thing lacking definition this time round) story mistakes posturing for potency. Sullivan Stapleton lacks anything of Gerard Butler’s ferocity or gravitas and as such cannot hide the flimsiness of the story.

Lena Headey’s return as widowed Spartan Queen Gorgo is lumbered with awkwardly written exposition which seek to compensate for Gerard Butler’s reluctance to return and director Noam Murro’s inability to tell a coherent story in amongst all the slow motion impaling, beheading and blood spattering. Given the film is meant to be based on Frank Miller’s as-yet unpublished prequel Graphic Novel “Xerxes”, Rodrigo Santoro can feel slightly aggrieved that he gets so little screen time but I’ve not found him nearly so fearsome since I learned he’s the guy who played Karl, the object of Laura Linney’s frustrated affections in “Love Actually”. The one bright spot is Eva Green’s extravagant turn as embittered-Greek-turned-Persian General Artemesia. Where Headey seems bored and disengaged with the material, Green throws caution to the wind and chews the scenery with crazed abandon and single-handedly rescues it from the trappings of straight-to-DVD naffness.

Without Zack Snyder’s visual flair, the same bag of tricks look decidedly unconvincing and cheap this time round, with shots not designed to breathe life into the panels of a graphic novel but instead to maximise the ‘pop’ of the gimmicky 3D, only to undermine the effect by having blood spatter and stick to the camera lens. The dialogue lacks any subtlety or artistry and because the grand set pieces are murky and unclear, characters are often reduced to stating what has just happened to each other in wooden, stilted conversations.

This isn’t Sparta, it’s a hack job and not just on countless Persian and Greek limbs. This overly violent film just doesn’t have anything approaching a compelling enough story to make it entertaining. If everything was shown at normal speed rather than relying so frequently on slow motion slicing and dicing, it might struggle to last more than an hour, which would actually be a good thing.

5/10  Score 5