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300: Rise of an Empire
Release Date(s)2014 (June 24, 2014)
Studio(s)Warner Bros./Legendary (Warner Home Video)
Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 was a huge hit back in 2007. It racked up over $200 million in the US alone, a surprisingly high number for a bloody, R-rated movie starring mostly then-unknown actors. Audiences and critics were blown away by its innovative visuals and testosterone-fueled mix of fantasy and history. Even so, a sequel was hardly a foregone conclusion. After all, by the end of the movie we were kind of out of heroes (spoiler alert for an event that took place almost 2,500 years ago).
Fortunately, the Persian Empire was fighting all sorts of different battles during this time with other heroes with red, hot, mostly-computer-generated blood coursing through their veins. Based on a follow-up graphic novel, Xerxes, that Frank Miller may even get around to finishing and publishing someday, 300: Rise of an Empire shifts our attention to the Athenians and their leader, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). While Leonidas makes his stand at Thermopylae, Themistocles leads an armada of ships against Artemisia (Eva Green), the powerful woman whose cunning transformed Xerxes into the god-king.
Give Rise of an Empire credit for this much: its structure provides a fairly elegant solution to the problem of crafting a sequel to a movie that doesn’t particularly lend itself to one. It takes place before, during and after the events of 300. Beyond that, however, the only question seems to have been, “How do we give audiences more of the same?” The biggest difference between the two movies is that the Athenians wear blue capes and the Spartans wore red.
In 2007, 300 looked unlike anything audiences had seen before (on film, at least…if you’d read the graphic novel, it looked exactly like something you’d seen before). Rise of an Empire suffers in large part because we’ve seen these tricks before. Director Noam Murro does a fine job substituting for Zack Snyder but doesn’t really distinguish himself. There is at least one truly spectacular battle scene but the rest of the action is competently staged but fairly forgettable. The cast is fine but again, nobody really stands out the way Gerard Butler did in the original despite a lot of clenched-neck bellowing. The exception is Eva Green, who seems to be having a great time being the biggest bad-ass in a male-dominated society.
You might think 300: Rise of An Empire would look amazing on Blu-ray. You would be correct to do so. The video quality is top-notch and the 7.1 DTS-HD audio is state-of-the-art. Top marks. Extras are limited to a collection of featurettes that add up to roughly an hour. There’s nothing groundbreaking or revelatory here, although some of the behind-the-scenes footage and looks at production design and effects are worthwhile and interesting.
Unfortunately, the bonus features succumb to a trend I’ve noticed more often these days. The prevailing wisdom among studios seems to be that nobody ever watches all of the special features, so we’re getting a lot more repetition than we used to in featurettes. For instance, Real Leaders & Legends is a decent, cursory look at the historical figures and events in the film. All well and good. Women Warriors focuses on Artemisia and Queen Gorgo. The first half talks about the characters in the film and how much Eva Green and Lena Headey enjoyed the physicality of their roles and that sort of thing. Then we see exactly the same material about the real Artemisia and Gorgo that was part of the Real Leaders & Legends feature. It’s not the worst thing in the world. It’s just kind of lazy. The package also includes a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy.
Most sequels suffer in comparison to their predecessor and 300: Rise of an Empire is no exception. But it also isn’t out and out horrible. The worst thing you can say about this movie is you probably won’t remember much of it for very long. If you loved 300, you’ll almost certainly tolerate Rise of an Empire!
- Adam Jahnke