VOD film review: 300: Rise of an Empire
Jo Bromilow | On 28, Sep 2014
Director: Noam Murro
Cast: Eva Green, Sullivan Stapleton, Lena Headey
Watch 300: Rise of an Empire online in the UK: TalkTalk TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Every so often, along comes a movie so epic, so full of testosterone and awesomeness, it overwhelms you. Like a protein shake to the power of 300, shaken by Jason Statham and poured by the Rock – it’s got a very large X chromosome and a very large Y chromosome and it’s not afraid to use them.
Now, as anyone who will mix a protein shake on occasion will know, there are always dregs left at the end. Some foolishly think that these dregs are enough to fuel your next grunt-fuelled, sweat-drenched testosterone-fest.
You can see where we’re going with this.
If 300 is a protein shake (the chocolate flavour – they’re the best) then 300: Rise of an Empire is the brown stuff left over.
It would be foolish to call this blockbuster a sequel – the best word for it is, in fact, a ‘sidequel’. While Gerard Butler and his buff boys in blood red were getting hot at the Hot Gates, the Athenian boys in blue – led by muscle-bound Aussie Sullivan Stapleton as idealistic statesman Themistocles – were raising hell and breaking Persian ships on the waters of the Aegean.
For this second outing, Zach Snyder has stepped into a writing and producing role, passing the baton to Noam Murro (while the composer baton is passed from Snyder’s favoured Tyler Bates to Junkie XL). The two newcomers take to their roles like noble apprentices – they do their very best to mimic the styles of their masters. And it’s in this mimicry that the weakness of ROAE comes through.
The beauty of the first film, with its sparse colour palettes, gratuitous use of both slow-mo and well-toned Spartan warriors, lends itself well to this new palette, which introduces swathes of blue in the form of the rich Athenian cloaks. It’s nice to look at – especially the closing credits, which, if the third film is shot in this style, will have people queuing round the block – but, unlike the first film, the story is just a bit too complicated to hang together. Part of this comes down to a change in the tempo; shifting from a tale of one group of men to a more sweeping epic (note: there is serious potential for a third film in this series) means that the humour of the first film has been sacrificed. The grander tone suits the later acts of the film – when news of the 300’s death reaches the rest of Greece and Lena Headey emerges as the majestic warrior queen that Cersei Lannister dreams of being – but the early scenes almost collapse under the weight of their own puffed out chests.
The cast, put upon to take themselves as seriously as Murro is clearly taking his shot at playing Snyder, do their very best with a stodgy script. Jack O’Connell, the talented young star of Skins and Starred Up, possibly comes off the worst, with a bizarre role that combines plucky young squaddie with muscle-bound son of a warrior father, a hackneyed attempt to mirror the paternal relationship at the heart of 300. But by gum, he and his Muscle Milk-sipping co-stars, led by a stony-faced Stapleton, do muscle their way through some truly ridiculous battle scenes, one of which genuinely includes a character shouting ‘Reverse!’ at a Greek ship, which is then, amazingly, put into reverse.
At the heart of the ensemble, the ridiculous battle scenes, and the likely reason why this film made a fortune at the box office, however, is Eva Green. Just as in Penny Dreadful, a single glance from her can set the screen alight, as she sashays through every scene in a truly dazzling selection of outfits. Her character, built from the start as central to the transformation of the dishy Rodrigo Santoro (aka. Handsome Carl from Love Actually) into the gold-plated, mad king, Xerxes, is elevated from history’s simple warrior woman to a full-blown, full-breasted weapon of mass destruction – capable of a variety of strategic military executions, including steering ships and the lesser known ‘angry sex tactic’.
Breaking hearts on both sides of the Aegean, she brings two much-needed X chromosomes to the film. Her role, far from gratuitous, plays perfectly opposite the quiet, queenly strength shown by Lena Headey in the first film. Green acts all her male co-stars off the screen without even opening her mouth. 300: Rise of an Empire is worth seeing just for her.
Avoiding being all muscle and no trousers – or loincloths, as trousers were not as en vogue in ancient times as Eva’s outfits – ROAE has the potential to be a great film about the power of nationhood and the sacrifices a man would make for his country. Part of its problem, though, is that it tries to tell too many people’s stories, shoehorning too much in. You come away from it as you would an average gym session – if just a little more time had been put in, your full potential could have been reached. Was it the fault of your trainer not pushing you hard enough – or too hard in too short a time? Is it simply down to high expectations?
Either way, before the filmmakers reach the third chapter – which we really hope will be called 300: Rise of an Empire – Ionians Unite, as then all the vowels would be accounted for – their protein shake is in need of a refill.