I can't say the word "rise" without saying like the Emperor. Riiiiiiissse...
300: Rise of an Empire isn't so much a sequel or prequel as it is a side quest. It begins with a little bit of backstory, but much of Rise runs in parallel to the events of 300. They even throw in a few stock shots from 300, in case you needed a reminder of what Gerard Butler looks like or that Michael Fassbender was in it. However, I do find it a little annoying when a film shows you a flashback to something you just saw like 30 minutes ago. I'm not talking about the flashbacks to 300 either. These were flashbacks from this movie.
During the first Persian invasion of Greece, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) fought the Persian forces back, killing King Darius, father of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Before dying, Darius told Xerxes that only the gods can defeat the Greeks. After mourning his death, Xerxes is sent on a quest by their naval commander, Artemisia (Eva Green). He wanders the desert until finding some pool of dark power water that transforms him from a normal looking guy that wears a little too much eyeliner, to the cross-dressing, god king we all know and love. Xerxes returns to conquer Greece once and for all.
Knowing the Persians are returning, Themistocles attempts to unify the Greeks. He heads to Sparta where Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) basically tells him that they are all a bunch of pussies, and let the Spartans do the heavy lifting. Queen Gorgo was much angrier in Rise versus 300. To hear her speak, you'd think she was one of the villains and not one of the good guys. Maybe Headey was channeling a little bit of Cersei Lannister. Then again, it could have just been the dialog, which was pretty terrible, but that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. Anyway, so while Leonidas is off to combat Xerxes' army at Thermopylae, Themistocles commands the Greek navy to fight back Artemisia and the Persian navy.
If you like fake blood spraying all over the place, 300: Rise of an Empire has buckets and buckets of it. Computer generated blood has always looked bad, and there are more than few parts in Rise where is looks even worse than normal. Granted Rise is going more for style points than realism, so despite it looking really bad in parts, it didn't bother me all that much. I suppose I'm getting used to it a bit, but I still prefer "real" fake blood over the CG version.
I was more disappointed with the overall quality of effects. It has the same style and aesthetic of 300, but has a cheaper overall look. The colors are so washed out in parts that it was really difficult to tell what's going on. Ships crash into each other leaving you to guess what side they are on. A few of the more complex action scenes had a cartoony, video game look.
Where Rise shines is during the actual swordplay. Themistocles and his fellow soldiers cut through waves of bad guys with a brutal and efficient style. A few times the typical, quick-cut, shaky cam action was a little too much, but it was kept to a minimum. The hand-to-hand action was much easier to follow.
I don't recall seeing Sullivan Stapleton in anything before, but he had a commanding presence. Normally, I'd be concerned when an action film doesn't star a more recognizable actor. He did a good job, and while he didn't quite replicate the physicality from 300, he held his own in that regard. It's interesting to note that the shape he's in seems to change from scene to scene, illustrating how he was likely working out as it was being made. It also shows an example of how films are not shot in order. Rise won't necessarily inspire people to sign up for Crossfit or 300-style workout classes like they way 300 did, but I did leave the theater thinking I should hit the gym on the way home. Swing the sledgehammer against a large tire or something like that.
Most will remember Eva Green's as the best thing about Rise with her cold and vicious Artemisia. She plays it with an awareness of the type of movie this is, and seemed to revel in the role. Plus, she's extremely sexy. That might be me though, I tend to be really attracted to women playing violent, warrior-types.
300: Rise of an Empire has enough gory violence to satisfy your bloodthirst. It's largely nonsense, but still manages to be a lot of fun if you can watch it for the mindless entertainment it is. That's not always a bad thing though. If you're not already an existing fan of 300, then don't expect to get much out this, but fans shouldn't hesitate to catch a matinee.
2.5 (out of 5) Death Stars