Beware Greeks bearing swords, especially when they’re as testosterone-fuelled as the cast of this gleefully gory festival of brutal CGI-baked bloodletting.
Comic books have provided a rich vein of material for filmmakers over the years, although the explosion of big budget movies involving Batman, Superman, Iron Man and Thor et al in recent times has reached near epidemic levels.
Alongside the big names of the Marvel and DC universes that have gone before the cameras are equally beloved titles, most notably from the pen and pencil of the revered Frank Miller. In 2005, a collection of Miller’s hugely acclaimed Sin City stories was directed by Robert Rodriguez and Miller himself (with a helping hand from Quentin Tarantino) and was noteworthy for being one of the first fully digital live action films.
It made the film look, for all intents and purposes, like a live action graphic novel and a similar visual approach was adopted by Zack Snyder for his 2006 adaptation of Miller’s 300, in which King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads his 300 Spartans into battle against the vastly superior forces of the invading Persian armies, led by the ‘God King’ Xerxes.
That film’s enormous success has inevitably led to 300: Rise Of An Empire that, while not directed by Snyder, might as well have been judging by its identical style. If anything, director Noam Murro has gone even further, throwing in curious tricks like the incessant and distracting floating dust that permeates nearly every frame.
This follow-up is a sequel of sorts, taking place before, during and after the fateful Battle of Thermopylae that was the centrepiece of 300. Sizeable chunks of the film are given over to exposition-heavy narration which establishes how the events of 300 came to pass. At the Battle of Marathon, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) witnesses his father Darius’ death at the hands of Greek General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and is goaded into annihilating the Greeks by Darius’ bloodthirsty naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green).
Artemisia has her own reasons for wanting the Greeks to be wiped out and leads the entire Persian navy into war against the Greek fleet, led by Themistocles. Although vastly outnumbered the Greeks fight on, not only for their families, but also for their way of life.
By sticking so slavishly to 300‘s super-stylised visual palette, Rise Of An Empire loses a lot of its forebear’s impact, but that’s not to say the film doesn’t water the eyes with a series of shamelessly over-the-top battle scenes.
Set on water for large chunks, the film does an effective job of showing large-scale naval warfare, while the swordplay is even more brutal than its predecessor, with limbs being lopped off and CGI blood spraying around so readily it beats you into submission.
Anyone looking for depth will find none here (Snyder co-wrote the script, which should tell you all you need to know), but then this is 300: Rise Of An Empire we’re talking about here and anyone who watched 300 will know what to expect.
The acting is of secondary importance; Stapleton is no Butler (not a phrase I thought I’d ever use), but Green deserves credit for giving a performance of such scenery chewing madness you’d be forgiven for thinking she’d been let out on day release. This isn’t a film that does anything by half and that also goes for the comically absurd sex scene involving Artemisia and Themistocles – illustrated by the glance exchanged by two guards stood outside.
300: Rise Of An Empire makes no apologies for itself and asks little of its audience other than to wallow in its tidal wave of blood and entrails. If you’re after anything else you’d best look elsewhere.