300: Rise of an Empire DVD Review

Did 300: Rise of an Empire capture the spirit of the original, or was it simply released too late to be worth checking out?

Themistokles in 300:Rise of an EmpireWhat’s It About? The follow up to 2007’s 300, Rise of an Empire is a prequel, sequel and a side-story to the original.

Heroic Greek warrior Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) comes up against the Persian army, ruled by Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and led by the vengeful Artemisia (Eva Green).   This time the battles take place in the sea.

We also get, via Lena Headey as the Spartan Queen, the extensive history not just of Themistokles but of Xerxes, and the storyline of Rise of an Empire weaves in and out of the Spartan storyline from the original.

Verdict: When 300 was released it was somewhat revolutionary, and became a pop culture phenomenon – with Spartan diets, spoofs and the ‘this is Sparta’ quote ensuring the film was a household name.

The Zak Snyder visuals and visceral blood splashes were seen as a breath of fresh air at the time, as well as keeping the budget low with heavy use of green-screen.  Fastforward 9 years and, as Sin City: A Dame to Kill For also found out, the appetite from moviegoers isn’t quite as it was. But, putting aside the timing of the release, is the film actually any good? It’s OK. In short, some parts work really well, and others not so much.

Eva Green lights up the screen; pouting, staring and pretty much single-handedly making this film worth watching (the same could be said of her role in the Sin City sequel). She’s theatrical, wild and very fun throughout. When she’s not on the screen, you miss her, and that is as much praise for her performance as a comment on the rest of the film.  She really sinks her teeth into the role but is let down by a poor script and fairly dull storyline, again these could be used as criticisms of the film as a whole. It is great to have a strong female character in a very macho blockbuster, though this is undermined by the fact she still has to appear topless and have a questionable sex scene.

Despite handing over directing duties to Noam Murro, producer Zack Snyder’s hand is still clearly felt in the visual style of the film. It looks just like its predecessor, so it isn’t quite as original, but it’s still interesting stylistically. And this time there’s even more blood flying at the screen, and slow-mo take downs akin to finisher moves in video games.

Artemisia in 300Though naval battles dominate in the film, we still get some hand-to-hand combat, and the Greek warriors fight differently to Spartans. It’s much less polished, but deliberately so, with a more hand-held camera feel to put you in the middle of the flying limbs and splashing blood.  Though seeing blood go flying is fairly interesting artistically to begin with, it does wear a little thin after the 20th time. The action sequences also slightly outstay their welcome at times, and the movie doesn’t really zip along like it should.

Elsewhere, it’s clear Sullivan Stapleton is no Gerard Butler. Partly down to the script and partly due to a lack of personality for the character, his speeches are a bit bland, lacking any standout quotes.  He is, however, ably supported by his men – Calvan Mulvey puts in a good shift and Jack O’Connell looks the part and is okay despite a strangely stilted accent.

Despite all of these criticisms, there is some fun to be had here. The naval battles look great, and give this film a slightly different feel, which it needed. With such a similar and distinctive visual style, a re-run of the same sort of plot would have felt too samey, so the naval battles do give the film something extra. The extensive use of green-screen (though probably not easy on some actors) makes for some incredible-looking scenes, where we can see ships being destroyed, horses jumping from one to another, and vast great detailed backgrounds.

Extras: The Blu-ray/DVD comes with a decent selection of documentaries about the making of the film, including interviews with the cast, and the technical challenges they faced. There are some interesting insights into how the green-screen process works.

Final Words: Clearly not as original as 300, and coming too long after, the film is let down by a poor script and a less than enigmatic leading man. This being said, Eva Green is always great to watch, and we get to see some nice action sequences with the familiar blood-splattering style.

300: Rise of an Empire is out on BluRay and DVD now.