Movie Review | 300: Rise of an Empire
Movie summary: Greek general Themistokles leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes and Artemisia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy. (IMDb)
Even with other movies that I've disliked and posted reviews of, there's usually been something to at least talk about where potential was wasted or maybe one great performance standing out from a bunch of stinkers. Maybe some great visuals or an excellent score that can be appreciated in spite of a poor story. Not so with 300: Rise of an Empire, which is just bad, bad, bad.
I enjoyed 300 despite it's obvious problems, but this movie seems to have doubled down on its worst traits and added new problems. First and foremost, there's Sullivan Stapleton as Themistokles, who simply cannot hold a candle to Gerard Butler's ferocious King Leonidas and it leaves the very heart of the movie lacking a pulse to keep things moving.
Then there's Eva Green, who I think is going for scenery-chewing, over the top villainy, but doesn't quite manage it. It doesn't help that her character, Artemisia, isn't exactly made to look competent or threatening at all, with it never being in doubt what her final fate will be, following some poor combat choreography that again exposes her weakness in the role.
What also doesn't help is the continued poor portrayal of women, which just muddies the waters. Greek soldiers raped and killed her family, then used her as a a child sex slave before dumping her on the streets before she was taken in by a Persian representative. Giving a female character 'rape as entire backstory' isn't particularly inventive, especially when executed as cheaply as it is here.
But it does also makes you wonder why you should sympathise or root for the Greeks., creating a distance between audience and the movie. Artemisia's backstory is horrific and, considering we never explicitly see the Persians engage in similar behaviour, doesn't exactly paint the heroes as... well, heroes. Throw in the gratuitous nudity for her and other women yet again and it just leaves you shaking your head.
Then there's the action, which also fails to live up to 300. It's not just badly choreographed, with not even the barest lip service paid to any kind of tactics, but the CGI is somehow worse here despite coming out 8 years after the original. The CGI blood is especially poor, looking almost cartoonish and leaving me wondering if that was a visual effect intended to impress in 3D and not adjusted for 2D viewing.
The fights have gone from combatants displaying near-superhuman abilities in 300 to basically being superheroes when winning in Rise of an Empire, making when they fall seem ridiculous because of how they even survived to that point. Or how the sharpness of weapons change depending on who needs to survive or simply be injured rather than being killed by blows that dismember others.
The poor CGI work remains throughout too, despite almost a decade of advances between the movies, not helped by some baffling continuity and story choices. The most obvious being Ephialtes, who betrayed Leonidas and the Spartans, now even more deformed despite the timelines of the two movies intertwining and Xerxes' transformation into his 'god-king' form - a process which apparently also alters his clothing, piercings and other accessories at the same time as his body.
The only reason I haven't rated Rise of an Empire even lower is because of the intertwining with the original. Lena Headey as Gorgo and David Wenham as Dilios return and are pretty much the two best characters and performances in the entire movie, helped because they act as a reminder of a much, much better movie.
300: Rise of an Empire feels like a lame cash-in, which is strange considering how much later it came out. The fact that the appearances of characters from the previous movie are by far the best part of this movie confirm just how poor it is. Terrible performances, a terrible script and somehow looking worse than a movie from almost a decade earlier make this one to avoid.
300: Rise of an Empire is a very, very poor movie, completely failing to come anywhere close to the original and somehow making an extremely talented actress like Eva Green come across as a complete amateur. The script is dreadful, the action and effects worse, and Sullivan Stapleton has less than one-tenth as much charisma or screen presence of Gerard Butler's Leonidas. One to avoid.