Review - 300: Rise of an Empire

300: Rise of an Empire (2014), R, 102 minutes - On March 9, 2007, a stylized sword and sandals epic based on a classic Frank Miller graphic novel stormed into theaters and set box office records.  At the time 300 may have only been known by comic book nerds, but after that early weekend in March the world knew not only of Miller's 300 Spartans, but of Gerard Butler and Michael Fassbender as well.  Seven years later - almost to the day - a sequel (of sorts) finally arrived, and had much the same effect on the competition when its opening weekend was said and done.  Only time will tell if Rise of an Empire will launch anyone into the nation's consciousness the way 300 did for Butler and Fassbender, but it was a much better follow up than I had anticipated.

Shortly after the success of 300, Frank Miller announced that he was working on another graphic novel, a prequel of sorts that was going to focus on Xerxes.  Not long after that, a sequel film was also announced.  That graphic novel has yet to be released, and based on the story line in this film, I certainly can't say that this is based on it in any way other than a potential overlap of Xerxes' origin story (Xerxes plays about as much of a role in this film as he did in 300).  So if Rise of an Empire doesn't focus entirely on Xerxes, then what is it about?  This film, with the exception of a couple side steps for character origins, is basically a parallel story to the one shown in 300.  It is the story of Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) and his Greek navy as they combat Artemesia (Eva Green) and the Persian naval forces that she commands.  This all takes place while King Leonidas and his Spartans are fending off the Persian invasion during 300.  Strangely enough Themistokles faces much the same odds that Leonidas did.

A handful of characters carry over from 300 - Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), Dilios (David Wenham), Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan), even King Leonidas (Butler) and Stelios (Fassbender) in archive footage.  The new characters though are who truly drive this half of the story.  Themistokles is just as devoted to a unified Greece as Leonidas was to an independent Sparta and Artemesia is every bit as ruthless as Xerxes, if not more justifiably so.

As you might imagine, Rise of an Empire includes more than its fair share of blood splatter and be-headings and if that isn't enough for you, it mirrors 300 with it's own steamy sex scene.  This one is between Green's Artemesia and Stapleton's Themistokles and may easily be the roughest sex scene that comes to mind since the Viggo Mortensen/Maria Bello 'romp' in A History of Violence.

Between the up and down status of Miller's graphic novel and Rise of an Empire being directed by someone other than Zack Snyder (Noam Murro) I really didn't know what to expect from this film, but I must say that I enjoyed it.  It has the look and feel of 300 (that could be due to Snyder's having written this script) and tells another piece of the tale of the Persian invasion of Greece.  It introduced new, compelling characters and left a potential window for yet another sequel - the further story of Xerxes perhaps?  I always find it reassuring when a sequel doesn't disappoint.  If you enjoyed 300 then you're sure to like 300: Rise of an Empire.











****BONUS****

- My review of 300 pre-dated this blog and was originally posted on my old myspace page on March 24, 2007 after having already seen it a couple of times.  I have re-posted it below.  The content has been edited for formatting purposes only. (Side note: I didn't even mention Michael Fassbender's inclusion in 300 as I didn't even know who he was at the time)

300 (2006), R, 116 minutes - Ok, I have actually seen this movie twice now. Once on opening night two weeks ago (when it was absolutely packed and we could only get seats in the 2nd row and couldn't see very well as a result) and again this afternoon (I wanted to check it out from a decent vantage point). Both times I left the theater more than entertained.

This is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller that is loosely based on the historical events of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. I had VERY high hopes for this movie going into it as Frank Miller is one of the greatest comic book writers of all time (especially when it comes to his own personal material - Sin City, 300) and a personal favorite. Just like Sin City did before it, this was everything I had hoped it would be and more.

The entire movie was shot in front of green and blue screens with the backgrounds added in digitally afterwards (like Sin City), and once again this process was successful in conveying the feel of the original work (comic).

Unlike Sin City however, this is not filled with an all-star cast of actors/actresses. The main character - King Leonidas - is played by Gerard Butler, probably best known stateside for his role as the Phantom in 2004's Phantom of the Opera. The only other even vaguely familiar faces belong to Dominic West (Hannibal Rising, The Forgotten, HBO's The Wire) and David Wenham (LOTR, Van Helsing). Rodrigo Santoro from Lost plays the God/King Xerxes although I never would have placed him without seeing the cast list on imdb.com.

There is a ton of action and violence (albeit computer generated blood spurting violence) throughout the entire movie. It is very faithful to Miller's graphic novel. There was one noticeable difference: Queen Gorgo (played by Lena Headey) has a much more important role in the movie than in Miller's original story. I think the change works quite well though. It does slow the pace of the film down once or twice, but it adds a lot of depth to a character that pretty much appeared on only one page originally.

If you like action/history/war films (even if they are loosely based on reality), Sin City, or anything Frank Miller in general, you have to check this movie out. I enjoyed the hell out of it and will definitely be picking it up as soon as it comes out on DVD.

Comments

  1. Good review Tim. All so very dumb, but still pretty fun if you know what to expect going in. Heck, same could be said about the first one, although that one is clearly a bit better.

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