Directed by Noam Murro
This time, it's the Athenians led by Sullivan Stapleton's Themistocles that step up to take on a much larger Persian fleet, but before we get into that, we're shown what happens immediately following the end of "300" with Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo filling us in via narration before we flashback to an earlier battle between Greece and Persia, at the time, under the leadership of King Darius.
"Rise of an Empire" is first and foremost about the visually-driven action set pieces, and from the very first sword battle, it's obvious that no one involved is trying to reinvent the wheel. Using much of the same sped-up action and slow motion that's become Snyder's signature, it's a brutal and violent movie, the amount of CG blood spray becoming intoxicating at times in the over-the-top way its used to enhance the violence and earn its R rating.
The actual origin of Xerxes and his transformation into a God isn't handled particularly well, taking place so quickly with little explanation how Rodrigo Santoro looks like himself, takes a dip into a pool then emerges a foot taller, shaved from head to toe and covered in gold ornaments. As it happens, Xerxes is barely in the movie, disappearing for a good section to take part in the previous film, so this can focus on the sea battle between Themistocles and Eva Green's Artemisia.
Stapleton does a decent job holding the film together similar to how Gerard Butler led the first movie, but the sexuality oozed by Eva Green as the deliciously evil Artemisia often overshadows Stapleton, especially in their scenes together. We eventually hear Artemisia's story and why a Greek woman might side with the Persians against her former people and that helps to solidify her character as one of those great movie villains that are so rare.
"300: Rise of an Empire" may have been better if Murro had a ready guidebook like a Frank Miller graphic novel to work from, but even without it, he finds a way to simulate the look and feel of Snyder's movie without making it feel as if it's a complete retread. What really sets Murro's film apart and makes it distinctive are the various sea battles, all beautifully choreographed and filmed, the action often slowed down to a point where you feel like you're gazing at a series of oil paintings in an art museum.
As beautiful as the movie looks, it's often dragged down by the amount of talking whether it's expositional dialogue, narration or someone giving a big speech to the troops, all which we've come to expect from this sort of big historical war epic. The timeline often gets confusing since it starts right after the events of "300," flashes back to the past, then sometime over the course of the movie, it's taking place concurrently with the previous movie. As much as the two movies overlap, by the end we're back to a point after the slaughter of Leonidas' 300 and it's not clear how much time has passed. At times, it's almost laughable how many times someone randomly references the Spartans in passing conversation, trying way too hard to remind people of the original movie. Xerxes eventually returns as does the hunchback from the first movie, and even Queen Gorgo gets into the action as they try to wrap things up and set up a third movie, but "Rise of an Empire" would probably have worked just fine as a standalone movie in the series without so many callbacks.
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