Movie Review: 300 Rise of an Empire
Starring: Lena Heady, Rodrigo Santoro, Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Jack O’Connell, David Wenham
Directed By: Noam Murro
Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, 300 was the heavily stylised retelling of the famed Battle of Thermopylae wherein 300 Spartan soldiers, lead by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) faced off against the army of Persian God-King Xerxes (Santoro) only to ultimately fall against the might of superior numbers and the betrayal of a Spartan kinsmen. It was a popular film back in 2007, and I’m surprised it’s taken this long for a sequel to be made, but made it finally has. So how does the follow up fare against the original?
Pretty goddamn well.
300 Rise of an Empire is, to be fair, less of a sequel and more of a sidequel. Telling the story (albeit incredibly loosely) of the Battles of Artemisium and Salamis, naval encounters during the Persian invasion of Greece the first of which took place concurrently with the events in Thermopylae, showcased in glorious slow motion in the original movie. With heavy use of flashbacks and Lena Heady’s narration, 300ROAE then takes place at mostly at the same time as the preceding film, doing so with frequent reference in both scene and dialogue to the events of that movie.
Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas makes several appearances but only in flashback and without a single spoken word. Conversely Lena Heady, David Wenham and Rodrigo Santoro all return to reprise their roles – admittedly with only a few brief scenes. The bulk of the action takes place on the open waters of the Aegean Sea – shown in the film as a raging torrent of black water in the vein of the North Atlantic or Great Southern Oceans – and takes place between Green’s Artemesia, a Greek-born Persian military commander and Themistocles of Athens, one of the city-states most renowned soldiers and slayer of Darius, father of the God King currently killing the shit out of Gerard Butler and his 300 buddies.
The film is very much a follow up to the original. It eschews historical realism (again see picture above) for narrative excitement. It has buckets of CGI blood pouring furiously towards the screen in high definition 3D. It embraces style over sense or substance and the film is none the worse for it. 300ROAE is ridiculous and wonderful in the way the best action movies are. It takes the distance of time between now and the real historical events it is based on and twists it into a fantasy with enormous, gold clad kings, warrior women who hate-fuck their enemies, monstrous beasts that prowl the land and seas of the Mediterranean and rain soaked and blood splattered, half naked warriors glistening in the light of an impressive moon.
300ROAE is not to be taken seriously. Like it’s precedent it is camp fun, glorious violence over a thin narrative. The cast is superb and play the parts with a perfect balance of grit and zealotry. Jack O’Connell is wonderful as Calisto, son of Scyllias. Lean Heady is, although vastly underused, all the spite of Game of Thrones’ Queen Cersei with the physical prowess to match in this new setting. Sullivan Stapleton is a great Themistocles; full of valour and honour and pride in the nation he can see the warring city-states of Greece becoming. Eva Green gets her teeth into the role, and her hands dirty in many a scene. My one complaint is that she seems meek in the face of God-King Xerxes; given her impressive personality, I hoped for more power in her relationships with the ruling class of Persia.
All in all, 300ROAE is a fun, gratuitously violent and deeply romanticised expression of historical inaccuracy. In a time when the best military strategy is the naval equivalent of attacking an enemy’s fist with your face, or the words SECRET HORSE emblazoned in fiery gold lettering, the movie does not attempt to be subtle. It’s the glitz and slick of 300 as filmed by someone who embraces the shaky camera work of the modern action film. The slow motion is used to brilliant effect, and like the first film is so frequently used that were you to remove it the entire thing is about 23 minutes long but oh the value it adds.
Blood trails in gory 3D from every slash and hack and stab, following the blade through the air in a truly visceral explosion of violence. It’s not to be missed and this is one of few films I recommend seeing in 3D just for the spectacle of it all.
Because that’s what 300ROAE is. Spectacle. There is no subtlety here, no message, no moral. There is no posturing or product placement. No pretention. Just perfect violence, slow motion body shots of half naked men, magnificent costuming and a tale as rooted in historical accuracy as it is slow and methodical in its storytelling. Watch it if you liked the first one.