Before watching 300 Rise of an Empire, which by the way I still object to the 300 in the title, being the story of the Athenians battle exactly at the same time, the similar visual style and the similar structure are all enough to associate the film with its predecessor, this 300 attachment gives the impression of desperation of Rise of an Empire to buddy itself with 300, but I digress. I decided to re-watch 300, because when I first watched it I didn’t quite remember whether I liked the film or not, it all became a blur of naked men fighting and Michael Fassbender, who frankly if not going full frontal can remain clothed for all I care, which perhaps distracted me from having an opinion about the film. I rather enjoyed my re-watch of 300 and this time not just because of all the nakedness of men. But it was watching Rise of the Empire that made me really appreciate 300.
In addition to its jaw-dropping visual triumph of 300, the thing that comes to mind is its brilliant battles, beautifully choreography, brilliantly paced and blood-pumpingly exhilarating and wonderful. The Spartans were famous for being a warriors’ society, in which fighting is in its men and women’s blood. 300 truly celebrates this disturbing and yet quite extraordinary people. The emphasis is not just on the violence of this battle, but also on the tactics of Spartan fighting method, in which unlike any other society I am aware of, there’s not hero and hardly any kind of individual fighting, the Spartan fight as a collective in an awe inspiring unity and with great harmony and flow. Or at least that’s how they fight in Zack Snyder’s film. And so 300 is a spectacle dedicated wonderful fluidity of the Spartan people.
Independent to its forerunner, 300 Rise of an Empire turns to Athens, where the men have a little bit more clothes and unlike the Spartans, they are thinkers, diplomats and of course democrats. Instead of the almighty Spartan king Leonidas, the Athenians have a more diplomatic leader of battle, Themistokles, played quite unremarkably by new Aussie export Sullivan Stapleton, whose talent sadly is closer to Russell Crowe than to that of Hugh Jackman, in short, not great. And instead of loyal Spartans who follow the king, ready to die for freedom, the Athenians need some convincing and there are discussions and politics and stuff. The story happens in concomitant with the battle of the 300 and tells of the Athenian battle against the Persian naval army commanded by Artemisia, a Greek woman who allied herself with the Persian and was one of the very few if any women that reached a command position in the Persian army.
With so much fascinating material and the visual talent of Zack Snyder, who wrote and produced, 300 Rise of an Empire should have been a brilliant film, but at the hands of Noam Murro the film sadly becomes average at best and 300 more interesting to write about as you may have noticed.
To be able to get the Athenians to follow him, Themistokles should probably be a great demagogue and an excellent public speaker with at least some charisma, which Stapleton seem to lack, his speeches are boring and unconvincing, why anyone would follow him is beyond me. In comparison 300’s Leonidas, played by Gerrard Butler who doesn’t do it for me but still, with fewer words he wins the crowd and a simple collective “Ahua!” goes further toward sweeping the people than any of Themistokles’ words which left no mark.
Rodrigo Santoro reprises his role as Xerxes the Persian god-king from 300. Here we get an origin story for Xerxes, after all the Frank Miller comic book the film is based on is called Xerxes and not Themistokles and unfortunately not Artemisia either. Santoro is excellent as the power thirsty god-king and his relationship with Artemisia is especially interesting, but sadly it gets pushed into the background and left unexplored.
However, the crux for me was Artemisia and her relationship with Themistokles, which took precedence, but is less interesting than the relationship with Xerxes mentioned above. The historical Artemisia is a fascinating character and potentially an amazing female character, but Rise of the Empire reduces her to a male cliché of a female warrior. Why is it that strong women in Hollywood are so often sexually driven and mentally unstable? Because all women with sexual drives are mentally unstable or vice versa? Have we learned nothing from Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer? It was especially infuriating that the negotiation scene between Artemisia and Themistokles turns into an aggressive sex session, because mutual appreciation between two adversaries warriors of opposite sexes is always expressed with violent sex, especially when it comes to the “boy loving Athenian” as Leonidas refers to them in 300. It is infuriating because Eva Green is actually very good and unlike Stapleton, oozes charisma, but instead of using her talent to create what could have been a wonderful woman, we’re left with a very disappointing yet sexy warrior. Luckily queen Gorgo, Lena Headey reprising her role and now Leonidas’ widow, brings some respect back to the ladies of the 300 universe, but she is not in the film enough.
When all is said and done the biggest problem of Rise of an Empire is that it is the same film as 300, down to the voice over of queen Gorgo, who like Dilios in the previous film, but a bit more annoyingly, tells the story to inspire the Spartan to join the war right at the end. But just as the Athenians were entirely different people to the Spartan so should the film have been completely different to 300 and not poorly recreate it with a different cast. And so, even the visuallity, which is very good, is not as exciting as that of 300 and Rise of the Empire remains dull and unexciting and it’s sad to see it happening to what could have been a brilliant second part to this Greek saga/trilogy/series, which would have complimented 300.
300 Rise of an Empire opens in UK cinemas on Friday 7, March.