After its victory over Leonidas’ 300, the Persian Army under the command of Xerxes marches towards the major Greek city-states. The democratic city of Athens, first on the path of Xerxes’ army, bases its strength on its fleet, led by Admiral Themistocles. Themistocles is forced to an unwilling alliance with the traditional rival of Athens, oligarchic Sparta whose might lies with its superior infantry troops. But Xerxes still reigns supreme in numbers over sea and land.
With Zack Snyder now busy on the DC superhero related films for the foreseeable future he took on producing and writing duties in the latest film in the 300 series while taking over in the director chair is Noam Murro. With only the 2008 feature film Smart People behind him Murro has taken on Rise of an Empire without a huge amount of experience, and while he brings little that’s new to the film he still delivers an enjoyable follow up to Snyder’s 2006 release.
Based on Frank Miller’s yet to be completed graphic novel Xerxes, Rise of an Empire follows Themistocles as he leads the battle to repel the Persian invaders led by their god-king Xerxes whom we met in the film 300. Rise of an Empire isn’t really a sequel or a prequel, it covers events that take place prior to, during, and following the events of the first film which leads to something of meandering narrative that at times gets too caught up in flash backs and flash forwards over telling its own story.
Packed with exposition Rise of an Empire adds further context to events in Snyder’s previous film, seeking to flesh out some existing characters while following the tales of new ones, at times the flow of the film feels somewhat disjointed and for some reason one of the most pivotal events in the film is relegated to little more than a momentary footnote.
Several of the characters are left as mostly generic, so much so that we see similar relationships from 300 rehashed onscreen in Rise of an Empire but with some minor tweaks or reversals to appear a little different. The shining light amongst all of this is the character Artemesia portrayed by Eva Green.
Artemesia is given the most depth out of everyone in the film and carries the strongest presence on screen as a result of not only a great performance from Green but also a more thoroughly fleshed out character. Lena Headey returns as the Spartan Queen Gorgo giving a solid performance while Sullivan Stapleton is generally sound as Themistocles but without leaving any lasting impressions. The material for his character gives some interesting insights into his thoughts and fears at times but generally doesn’t capitalise on any of these opportunities. The wider cast round things out well enough with at times what sounds like an odd mismatch of accents to be heard.
With all that said where Rise of an Empire delivers is with its stylistic action which is relentless from beginning to end. Despite some slow motion overuse Noam Murro delivers an engaging and bloody action extravaganza that makes use of some interesting set pieces and mixed with high impact sound effects proves extremely effective. The visual effects utilised in Rise of an Empire feel very familiar to 300, the techniques have been kept similar so there is a consistent feel, across the two films. The 3D here adds little to the experience overall, though there is some nice 3D utilisation in a few instances.
Ultimately Rise of an Empire is an enjoyable sequel that tends to feel too familiar, it doesn’t improve on the existing formula but it makes effective makes use of it for a second outing despite some shortcomings in the narrative structure. I’m giving it 6 out of 10 stars, it’s in cinemas around Australia from Thursday 6th March 2014.