RATING: 2 stars (out of 4)
The movie 300: Rise of an Empire is one of those oh-no-here-we-go sequels, like Caddyshack 2, The Next Karate Kid or Crocodile Dundee II. Borne of cynical Hollywood contempt, the idea is to grab a beloved classic and strangle it in front of its audience in a bitter display.
Think back to the end of Boogie Nights, when Dirk Diggler is destitute, desperately trying and failing to dirk up his diggler for a few bucks. That’s Rise of an Empire, which has as much trouble rising as washed-up Diggler did. It’s sort of like a Taiwanese cartoon remake of the original 2006 movie 300, only nowhere near as funny. The filmmakers copy the look and style of the original, but important elements such as plot or a coherent story get lost in translation. The difference is those Taiwanese toons do that on purpose for comedic effect, while this sequel is just an unhappy accident, only occasionally, and always unintentionally funny.
Running parallel to the original–in which 300 Spartans fought valiantly against a million-strong Persian army–Rise of an Empire focuses on the Athenians’ naval battles against the same enemy. Sullivan Stapleton plays the Athenian general Themistokles, who shares his Spartan brothers’ affinity for letting only his bare abs and chest serve as armor.
Themistokles’s big thing is defending democracy, and he does so by dictating his tactics to the senate and bullying anyone who stands in his way. His Putin/Hussein-style advocacy for “freedom” belies his wannabe inspirational speeches, which pumps up his troops to engage in super slow-mo, blood geyser-bursting battles.
Eva Green falls out of her skimpy costume as Artemisia, the Persian navy commander who prefers to kill captives with Mortal Kombat-style fatalities. Her negotiation tactics are also, I guess you’d say, unorthodox. She brings new meaning to the phrase “finish him,” making Themistokles one lucky boy.
The character of Xerxes returns as the first movie’s villain–once again played by Rodrigo Santoro as a gilded, S&M biker-fetish dude with everything pierced. So is Gorgo (Lena Headey), the Spartan Queen who played Adrian to Gerard Butler’s Rocky. The older characters are back only to force a sense of continuity, and have almost nothing to do other than ham it up in scenes that call on them to make angry eyes at the camera while roaring.
What halfway redeems the unasked-for, pointless movie is the action. The battle scenes are every bit as elegantly psycho as those in the 2006 film, even though their effect has been dulled over time, thanks in part to copycats like Showtime’s Spartacus series. The slowdown is not only there for the effect of letting you gawk at the incredible, CGI-aided effects, but to make sure the movie lasts longer than 45 minutes.
People need to ignore this movie for the good of the now-sullied franchise. It would suck if this movie were successful enough to give the money man the idea of making more and more movies in a series that never should have become a series. For a movie about finding inspiration in fighting for a lost cause, its makers should learn the value of a tactical retreat.
Starring Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro and Hans Matheson. Written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller. Directed by Noam Murro. 102 minutes. Rated R.