300: Rise of an Empire is the kind of film a football coach would deploy to inspire his brutes before a big match. Let’s call him Coach Bicep. You can imagine Coach Bicep yelling at his players “look at the odds these guys overcame!’ During the main game, when the team is losing, the group will gather in a huddle to recall the excessive slow motion killing and explosive blood loss of director Noam Murro’s film in their pursuit of victory. The side saddle sequel to Zack Snyder’s 300 (he co-writes Rise of an Empire) is macho motivation and nothing more.
Set in and around the events of 300, the Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the charge against invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and the vengeful commander of the Persian navy, Artemisia (Eva Green).
An okay action film is buried somewhere in 300: Rise of an Empire and Murro shows a hefty amount of flair in his ability to execute mass scale spectacle. The ocean battles are epic and there are enough moments of over-the-top bravado in combat that sits nicely in the jock-like revisionism of history that begun in 300. The best moments are when Murro pulls back the camera on something grand, and a scene where Xerxes stands high above his palace to greet thousands his people below has the right amount of awe.
Murro gets bogged down working from Snyder’s playbook from the first film with the constant slow motion that’s akin to watching a DVD constantly skip. Pushing 300: Rise of an Empire into overkill territory is the digital blood that spurts from bodies like a morbid fireworks show of gore. Nothing shatters your suspension of disbelief like the sight of computer generated blood, and it’s used so often that the film morphs into a hack and slash version of the Looney Toons.
The plot weaves in and out of battles and origin stories, and a voiceover is always there to hold your hand like a videogame guide character. The buff cast of men come across as a group of Chippendales instead of great warriors; focusing on flexing their abs while grunting through dull motivational speeches and exchanges about their own greatness. The point where 300: Rise of an Empire gets interesting is the gender warfare between Themistokles and Artemisia, despite a sex scene between the two that can only be classified as Showgirls bad. While Stapleton’s outpouring of testosterone becomes laboured, Green’s Artemisia is a fierce symbol of feminine liberation. Green’s performance is a fantastic expression of vengeance and fury with a hint of comic book villainy (a reminder that the film is based on Frank Miller’s graphic novels). Sadly, Green is betrayed by Snyder and co-writer Kurt Johnstad’s screenplay that demonises the character’s liberation for the sake of a symbol of evil that must be defeated. If anything, 300: Rise of an Empire presents a gap in the market for Artemisia’s story to be told that isn’t soaked in chauvinism. Lena Headey does up the ante a little as Queen Gorgo, but it’s only a blip, and she looks like she got lost on the way to the Game of Thrones set.
300: Rise of an Empire drowns in style and thrashes around the big screen like a chest beating ape. This is not Sparta.
Cameron Williams - follow Cam on Twitter here: @MrCamW