300: Rise of an Empire
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
A couple of years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to 300, a film based on a Frank Miller comic book series. The movie and comic book series are a fictional retelling of the real life Battle of Thermopylae, an event that took place within the Persian Wars. I was wowed by the action scenes as well as the story and recommended the film to others. This year, I learned that a sequel to 300 had been made. I decided to check out 300: Rise of an Empire as soon as it hit the theaters.
Based on the not-yet-released Frank Miller graphic novel Xerxes, 300: Rise of an Empire is a fictionalized retelling of yet another event during the Persian Wars: The Battle of Salamis. Events in the movie takes place before, during and after the original 300. In this film, Sullivan Stapleton stars as Athenian General Themistocles, the revered warrior and defender of Athens who longs for a united Greece. It is Themistocles' actions against the Persians during the Battle of Marathon that helps turn the Persian King's son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) into the monster we witness in 300.
When Xerxes declares war on Greece, Themistocles preaches unity among the people of Greece, believing that only a united front can defeat the might and sheer numbers of the Persians. Unfortunately, the rulers of Sparta have their own plans and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) refuses Themistocles' request to join him. While King Leonides (Gerard Butler) heads out with an army of 300 to engage the Persians, Themistocles rejoins his men and learns that the Persian navy is being led by a woman named Artemisia (Eva Green). Born Greek, Artemisia has great reason to fight for the Persians against Greece. She witnessed her parents' murder at the hand of Greek soldiers, was raped by numerous members of the Greek army and was left to die by these same monsters, only to be rescued by a Persian soldier.
Understanding that Artemisia will be a fierce and vengeful commander, in charge of an enormous and well-defended naval fleet, Themistocles rallies his troops of seasoned warriors, farmers, poets and intellectuals and leads his meager naval forces into the Aegean Sea. As skilled an orator as a soldier, Themistocles empowers his men into victory against Artemisia's fleet in their first meeting. But the Battle of Salamis has just begun and Artemisia has the numbers and the might to destroy Themistocles' army...unless a weakness can be found and exploited...and a country once divided can reunite against a common enemy.
I wasn't sure what to expect with a sequel to 300. Actually, considering how 300 ended, I couldn't see how they could make a sequel. The only bit of information I had about the film was that it was going to feature two powerfully strong female characters: Lena Headey, reprising her role as Queen Gorgo, and Eva Green, though I had no idea as to what role she would portray. I went on the strength of my enjoyment of the original film when I decided to see the sequel and I can honestly say that I am happy with that decision.
Just as in 300, the action in 300: Rise of an Empire is absolutely amazing. The battles in 300: Rise of an Empire are incredibly violent and bloody, the special effects eye-popping and the scenery awe-inspiring. And underlying it all is a dramatic, albeit inaccurate, retelling of an important battle in the Persian Wars. As portrayed by Sullivan Stapleton, Themistocles is an incredibly charismatic leader and you almost find yourself wanting to join him in battle, however hopeless it may be. That is the sign of good writing (Themistocles' speeches are inspiring) as well as good acting (Stapleton's delivery is incredibly believable).
There is a great deal of chemistry between Stapleton and Green, leading to a disturbing scene aboard the lead ship of Artimisia. The two were supposed to be discussing terms, Themistocles requesting Artimisia's unconditional surrender and Artimisia requesting something quite surprising. You see, an underlying theme in this film is the fact that Artimisia has yet to find a man who can be her equal in battle. She longs for someone to fulfill her need for an equal who can understand her and match her in every way. Themistocles represents that equal Artimisia has been longing for and thus, she invites him to desert the Greeks and join her. The conversation becomes a bit heated and...well, I don't want to spoil things for you, but suffice it to say that the Captain's Quarters becomes a bit cramped for the two warriors.
Lena Headey's role in the film is mainly as narrator until the end. You can feel Gorgo's pain as she tells the tale of Themosticles and his battle with the Persians. You can feel her need to avenge her husband in her speech to the Spartans and when she joins Themosticles in battle, you definitely know that Gorgo is no ordinary Queen.
300: Rise of an Empire is based on a comic book re-imagining of an epic battle and, as such, one should expect some over-the-top - and by that I mean somewhat unbelievable - action scenes. Like the monster-like human throwing flame bombs or the scene in which Themosticles charges across numerous ships engaged in battle atop his horse...yes, I said he charges on his horse...at sea...across numerous damaged and war-engaged ships. And then there is that Captain's Quarters scene...is it getting hot in here?
Anyway, despite some of the non-believable stuff, 300: Rise of an Empire has everything I loved in the original film and more. I loved that they decided to stick with filming the action scenes in such a way as to slow things down for effect. That way, the viewer gets the full understanding of how hard the warrior is battling and how bloody these battles can get. I forewent the 3D version of this film because I am not a fan of 3D. I hoped that the visuals of the film were centered on the storyline and not on the fact that this film was slated to have 3D effects. I had nothing to worry about. I could tell when something - like blood splatter or arrows soaring through the air - was meant to be seen in 3D, but these moments took nothing from the storyline. That is, they were not gratuitous 3D effects added to make the movie more exciting at the expense of the story.
In summary, if you loved 300, there is no way you can miss checking out 300: Rise of an Empire. The story is engaging, the action adrenaline-pumping, the battles epic and the eye-candy quite splendid. What more can an action movie fan ask for?!