Title: 300: Rise of an Empire
Date of Theatrical Release: 7 March, 2014
MPAA Rating: R
Seven years ago, I proclaimed Zack Snyder’s epic vision of Frank Miller’s graphic novel 300 the Movie of the Year for 2007. It had everything that makes a movie great … well almost everything, unless you want to count Gerard Butler’s shaved pecs as breasts, which I don’t. Rumors of a sequel began almost immediately, though I wasn't quite sure how such a feat would occur, with the Spartans lying slaughtered on the field of Thermopylae. It took a while, but Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, and Frank Miller finally figured out a way to revisit the Greco-Persian wars—by putting them to sea. 300: Rise of an Empire focuses on the battle of Salamis, fought in September, 480 BCE, roughly concurrent with the battle of Thermopylae. The Athenian fleet, commanded in part by a general named Themistocles, decisively defeated the Persian fleet commanded by the Persian emperor Xerxes I, and Queen Artemisia of Caria, located on what is now the southwest coast of Turkey.
With Snyder busy with the directing chores on last summer’s blockbuster Man of Steel, Noam Murro was chosen to helm the project. Murro, whose only feature prior to this was the 2008 film Smart People, had originally been named to direct the Bruce Willis action sequel A Good Day to Die Hard, but dropped out to take this assignment instead. While he seemed an odd choice when announced, it’s hard to find fault with the decision, as the finished project will attest. Working with a script penned by Snyder and Johnstad, the same team that brought 300 to the screen, Murro keeps the action flowing at a reasonable pace, though it does come across as a bit more ‘talky’ than its predecessor.
Leading the cast is Sullivan Stapleton, an Australian actor with a great deal of experience in television in his home country, though he has made occasional appearances in American productions, most recently 2013’s Gangster Squad. He plays Themistocles as a man devoted to the ideal of a united Greece, with all the separate city-states banding together to resist the Persian onslaught. Stapleton is very good as the Athenian general, convincing the viewer of his faith in a pan-Hellenic alliance. I doubt that this will prove to be the breakout role for him that Leonidas was for Butler, but time will tell. Opposite Stapleton is Eva Green, as the commander of Xerxes’ navy, Artemisia. This is really her movie, and she commands every scene she appears in, as well as helping to provide the one thing that the first movie lacked—a healthy dose of female nudity. Some familiar faces from the first movie appear—Lena Headey as the Spartan queen, Gorgo, David Wenham as Dilios, Andrew Tiernan as Ephialtes, and of course Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes. However, with the exception of Santoro’s Xerxes, this is not their movie, and they take up little screen time.
I took the Uni-Nephew with me to see this one on its opening weekend, and I must say both of us loved it. We saw the 2D version, but I would say that had there been a 3D version starting at the same time, we would’ve opted for that; this is a movie that begs to be seen on the big screen, in three dimensions. The effects were spectacular, the photography beautiful, and, just as the first did, it perfectly captures the mood and style of Miller’s graphic novels. My recommendation is simple: if you loved the first film, you won’t be disappointed here. But don’t wait for the home video release—get to the theater and see it, now … in 3D.