300: Rise of an Empire

A villainous Eva Green’s best efforts are waylaid by an adolescent tone in action fantasy sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, says MacDara Conroy

Hey, kids! Throw away your history books! After all, who needs ’em when you can learn all about history from the movies! Why, just the other week I was watching 300: Rise of an Empire and learned the most amazing facts. For instance, did you know the people of ancient Athens didn’t speak with a Greek accent? It sounded more like present-day South African! What’s more, human blood in them days was the same colour and thickness of the Klingons’ claret in Star Trek VI – their hearts must’ve have some awful trouble pumping that!

But seriously – as ludicrous as all that sounds, this flick’s not even the worst offender in the historical inaccuracy stakes. The same goes for its hyper-stylised predecessor, which saw director Zack Snyder hew faithfully to the starkly violent visuals of 300, the Frank Miller/Lynn Varley graphic novel celebrating the Spartan resistance of the advancing Persian army at the Battle of Thermopylae, which provided the film’s wildly exaggerated source material (among the many liberties far-right wingnut Miller takes, his depiction of the Persians as dark-magic-dabbling deviants invites serious contempt).

Snyder hangs on as writer and producer but hands the director’s chair to first-time action helm Noam Murro for Rise of an Empire, less a sequel to 300 than a companion piece taking place before, during and after the first film’s events, with some returning faces like Lena Headey’s Spartan Queen Gorgo (no Gerard Butler, though; his beardy charm is noticeably absent). It’s also an apologia of sorts for the treatment of the Persians first time round, with the big bad Xerxes re-imagined as a Macbeth-ish tragic hero corrupted by vengeance, ambition and the machinations of Eva Green’s villainous naval commander Artemisia.

The god king, however, is reduced to a bit player here, as the focus is squarely on Artemisia’s seaborne squabbles with Athenian general Themistocles, played by Aussie soap veteran Sullivan Stapleton with the blandness of spent chewing gum and an accent far more Durban than Darwin. That’s odd enough, even amid the dialogue’s general plummy pretentiousness; odder still is the ropey CG blood, a thick chocolatey syrup spattering from every appendage and torso across a perfunctory procession of battle scenes (and right in your face, if you see the murky 3D version). Murro’s film revels in this cartoon carnage, constantly switching to slo-mo-vision so we can see exactly how fake it is; I somehow doubt that was the intention.

Still, kudos must be given for making Green the star villain of the piece, very much a mirror of the nefarious Azula in superb animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender; both strong female leaders, as gifted as they are ruthless. More’s the pity, then, that Green’s best efforts are waylaid by the film’s overriding adolescent tone, so enamoured with its video-gamey violence that some downright dubious exploitation bits – including one astoundingly rapey sex scene – were allowed into the final cut seemingly unquestioned.

Add a 3D conversion that drains the first film’s bold palette of any vibrance and adds little in return, unless dust mites are your thing, and you end up with this thoroughly witless execution of what’s actually a promising concept. I mean, even Snyder’s 300 had its looks going for it.

300: Rise of an Empire opens nationwide on Friday March 7th

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