‘Rise of an Empire’ fails and falls

Film: “300: Rise of an Empire”
Release Date: March 7, 2014
Director: NoamMurro
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green
Rating: 2

The original “300” film was a very stylish adaptation of Frank Miller’s very stylish graphic novel, which in turn was based (loosely) on the true tale of the 300 Spartans who fought at the Battle of Thermopylae. It’s a tale many are familiar with, and depending on who one asks, director Zack Snyder did a fabulous job of emulating the style of the original comic while maintaining the central theme of Spartan glory.

However, the sequel, titled “Rise of an Empire,” ditches most of this to focus on an Athenian general and his relatively inglorious fight inthe Battle of Salamis. It tells a completely different story with different characters, and it forgets what made the original “300” film such a standout.

Taking place roughly at the same time as the events in the first “300,” the film focuses on the Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, “Gangster Squad”), who prior to the film’s events, kills Persian King Darius I, the father of the first film’s antagonist, King Xerxes I. Several years later, at the onset of the Persian Wars, Themistocles and his navy are sent to protect the Grecian seas from a naval assault from Artemisia (Eva Green, “Dark Shadows”), a Greece-born woman who rose to become one of the most feared commanders in the Persian fleet.

And herein lies the main problem with the film: Was the word “Spartan” in that last paragraph? Aside from a few cameos at the beginning and the end of the film, they don’t appear. That’s a major problem because Spartan glory was the central theme that the whole novel and first film was based on. That sense of glory was the main reason that the first “300” film was so enjoyable. It was the glue that held the film together, and without that glue, “Rise of an Empire” falls apart.

Another important factor that is conspicuously missing is the comic book style that set the original “300” film apart. One could pause any scene of that movie and note it looking like it was straight out of a graphic novel. That’s also gone in “Rise of an Empire,” and as a result, the action feels lifeless.

Adding to the film’s lifelessness is the acting, which, when compared to the bombastic and fierce attitude of the 300 Spartans, feels hollow and dull. Themistocles and his Athenian navy don’t have the personality that the Spartans at Thermopylae had, and while Xerxes and Artemisia do provide enjoyable performances, they aren’t enough to make up for the rest of the cast’s poor job.

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All of these things made the first “300” an awesome experience, at least for some. But now the factors that made the original so unique have been stripped from the experience, and the audience is left with an experience that won’t appeal to many at all. It’s a boring, bloody slog, and even for fans of the original, it’s probably worth a skip.