In 2006, a then-relatively unknown director by the name of Zack Snyder released a film based on a similarly unknown graphic novel called 300. The film, predominantly made up of burly men in speedos doing battle with swords in super slow motion – and (very) loosely based on Ancient Greek history – seemed a concept a little too strange and campy even by Hollywood’s standards. But, incredibly, it was a box-office smash, if not a critical one – proving a perfectly enjoyable piece of popcorn pap. Now comes the inevitable sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire. And after an eight-year wait, it seems the novelty has worn off.
Picking up where the first film left off, Rise of an Empire sees man-turned-God, King Xerxes of Persia, continue his assault on Greece. Leading the Greeks against the Persian invaders is Themistocles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. Unfortunately, lacking the Glaswegian fury of Gerard Butler’s Leonidas, Stapleton fails to anchor the over-the-top bluster of the action and plot.
The film’s many set-pieces are epic in scale, with the same almost surreal use of slow-motion and the ethereal green-screen sets – all bringing to mind a steroid-infused oil painting. The scenes are glorious to look at, and brutal in their execution, with bucket-loads more CGI blood than the first film ever managed. Yet, with Themistocles’ army numbering in the thousands, rather than the original, eponymous 300 Spartans, the underdog setup of the first film gets lost in a colossal melee.
Naturally, the film is full of overdramatic performances with characters spewing grand-sounding dialogue constantly. But the stand-out performance among so much scenery chewing is Eva Green. Because she adds some much-needed nuance and depth to her character, Artemisia? No; because she chews that scenery with so much ferocity that she quickly becomes the most interesting character among all the sword-fodder.
Overblown, a little charmless and eight years too late to truly cash in on this one-trick brand, 300: Rise of an Empire ends up feeling like a gross misadventure.