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300: Rise of an Empire is All Guts, Little Glory

<i>300: Rise of an Empire</i> is All Guts, Little Glory

DVD Release Date: June 24, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: March 7, 2014
Rating: R (for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language)
Genre: Action/Drama
Run Time: 102 min.
Director: Noam Murro
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro

It’s something that film critics probably don’t say all that often, but 300’s sidequel (and yes, Rise of An Empire is intentionally billed as that—not a sequel) was in desperate need of some Gerard Butler.

While Butler has managed to star in stinker after stinker post-300 and should’ve fired his agent ages ago, his commanding screen presence and inherent charisma was a perfect match for the Greeks' epic bout with Persia in the battle of Thermopylae. In short, he was someone the audience happily rallied behind.

Since Butler’s character, King Leonidas, met his unfortunate demise, however, viewers are left with a surprisingly bland successor in Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton, Gangster Squad). For whatever reason, the writers ignored Themistokles and opted to make the antagonist, Artemisia (Eva Green, Dark Shadows), the real star of the show. Beautiful, slightly unhinged and downright deadly with a bow, she has more scene-stealing qualities in her pinky than poor Themistokles has in the entire movie.

For a story chock full of testosterone, it’s odd that none of the men - especially the Persians' curiously attired, mortal-turned-god leader, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, The Last Stand) - really register. So in the absence of any character development, the screenwriters re-direct their attention to ending people's lives in spectacularly gory ways.

Picking up right where 300 left off, the Persian army, led by the embittered Artemisia, who begrudgingly answers to Xerxes, is charging toward the major Greek city-states. Themistokles of Athens, knowing he'll need to band with his fellow Greeks to have a shot at conquering his enemies, is forced to forge an uneasy alliance with Sparta, whose men are well-versed in matters of war but don't share an open-minded flair for letting commoners (read: non-wealthy people) have a voice.

That's about as deep as the plot, or any potential political message, gets. Sure, there are occasional references to the need for unity that suggest a method to the madness, but ultimately 300: Rise of an Empire comes across as nothing more than a cheap, campy knockoff of its successful predecessor.

Strangely enough, the visuals, a crowning achievement of the original, also lack the wow factor. Instead of the sharp stylized look that gave 300 its distinctive pop, this second chapter is muddled in dull maroon. As one fight sequence hastily transitions into another, the seemingly non-stop splattering of blood - and the filmmakers’ need to hurl it at the audience thanks to 3D technology - gets old after a while.

The bloodshed is not only borderline laughable, resembling tomato paste more than the real thing, but the dialogue is chock full of cheesy one-liners, too. And sandwiched between all the swordplay and gleeful decapitations is the proverbial icing on the cake, a sex scene between two rivals that's so ridiculous, it's reason enough to make 300: Rise of An Empire a shoo-in for a Razzie.

Somewhere, you know Butler is smiling. While he may have starred in the dreadful Playing For Keeps and The Bounty Hunter, he's at least proved he was one of the best assets to the original 300.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Some social drinking
  • Language/Profanity: A handful of f-bombs, plus instances where God’s name is misused.
  • Sex/Nudity: A couple of women are shown topless. One lengthy sex scene that’s pretty explicit (Artemisia is shown topless, and Themistokles is naked with his lower region obscured from view. A crass comment about Themistokles' lack of aggression in the bedroom.
  • Violence: Anyone who’s seen the first 300 won’t be surprised by the significant bloodshed. There are countless battle scenes where men die in a number of gory ways (stabbing, drowning, being trampled by horses, suffocation, etc.). Like its predecessor, the filmmakers take pleasure in spurting blood all over the place, and in 3D, the blood is intentionally propelled toward the viewer. Artemisia enjoys decapitating men and carries their heads around on a spear. In one scene, she kisses the man’s lip before discarding his head.
  • Religion: Numerous references to the "gods being with us."

Publication date: March 7, 2014