'300: Rise of an Empire'
Zack Snyder’s ‘300‘ has not aged well. The ode to CGI-assisted color correction and blood-soaked homoeroticism is no longer a technical marvel. Gerard Butler burned away all of his shouty Scotsman charm with crappy rom-coms, and the slo-mo/fast-mo action has been done to death in Snyder’s subsequent work. Nonetheless, Warner Brothers saw fit to make a sequel, ‘300: Rise of an Empire’, anyways. Snyder’s out (aside from the script, not his strength). Butler’s out (aside from archival footage). Fassbender’s out (obviously). But the blood is back, the greased abs are back, the beards are back, the boobs are back, and the bizarre sexually ambiguous Persian god-king is back. New is a lady villain and the addition of 3D. Other than that, it’s pretty much just more of the same, for both good and bad.
With King Leonidas now super dead, the hero role falls on newbie Themistocles of Athens (Sullivan Stapleton). He has been tasked by the screenwriters to lead the allied Greek forces in a massive naval battle against those Persian jerks. The primary villain this time is a Greek castaway Artemesia, played in a delightfully over-the-top manner by Eva Green. She was raised in Persia and is now a warrior queen who was secretly responsible for the God-King Xerxes taking power of the Persian Empire.
All of this plot business is covered mainly in voiceover and is frankly not all that important. Stepping in for Snyder behind the camera is Noam Murro, who pushes the stupidity factor of the franchise even further than his predecessor. Murro’s chief goal seems to be to slosh as much blood towards the 3D camera as possible, and it’s a nobly trashy goal. The sequel actually benefits from almost entirely ditching the self-important historical drama elements of the original. ‘Rise of an Empire’ is essentially a big budget exploitation movie that revels in gore, nudity and overacting.
There’s no denying the fun of some of this. Eva Green’s vamping, decapitating supervillain is an absolute blast to watch. It’s a knowingly cheesy performance and a great one that manages to out-macho all the boys and deliver a truly bizarre sex scene with Stapleton that’s shot like a fight sequence. (You kind of have to see it to believe it.) However, beyond Green and the vicious action, the movie doesn’t offer much. All the heroes are interchangeable and distinguishable only by their facial hair, never their personalities. The story is predictably dull. The dialogue is needlessly wordy and grandiose. Despite being packed with action, the film often seems to drag along whenever an actor other than Green is on screen doing anything other than being involved in a decapitation. In the end, the movie is forgettable trash. But at least it’s forgettable trash with some notable high points. So that’s something.