300: Rise of an Empire (★½)

three_hundred_rise_of_an_empire_ver2Ugh. I was never a fan of the initial movie phenomenon that was 300, but in comparison to the sequel/sidequel/whatever that 300: Rise of an Empire is, that one is a delight. This is the very definition of a slog to me, drained of all potential enjoyment except the occasional bit of mockery. Even more so than Zack Snyder‘s original, this is really only good for Mystery Science Theater 3000 style viewing, as it feels like a self parody at times. Noam Murro steps in for Snyder, who still co-writes this one, and seems bored from the get-go, with same being the case for lead actor Sullivan Stapleton. It’s only when Eva Green is on the screen that things are at all lively, but it’s in such a ridiculous way that it feels like things are bordering on the comedic, but never intentionally so. Yes, this film is just as full of homoerotic moments as the last one, but like everything else in this movie, it seems to be doing so out of desire as opposed to any kind of legitimate reason. If all you want is the same sort of blood spurting orgy of violence, I suppose 300: Rise of an Empire delivers for the most part, but if you want a flick that can be watched with any sense of an enjoyment, well, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

Functioning as a bit of a prequel as well as a sequel (though it’s apparently a sidequel officially), the action here takes place before, during, and after the battle depicted in the first movie. This time, the action is mostly at sea as the Greek general Themistokles (Stapleton) leads his forces against a Persian force led by Artemisia (Green), the Greek born but Persian aligned commander of their Navy. After Themistokles killed the Persian King Darius (Igal Naor) in a previous battle, Artemisia was the one who convinced Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) to basically go mad in the quest for revenge and become a God-King (no, I don’t understand the hows or whys of that one either). From there, his forces battle Leonidas’ as depicted in the first movie, while Artemisia and her incredibly violent ways face off on the water with the crafty Themistokles. It’s all pretty boring and repetitive when you get right down to it really, aside from an absolutely bizarre fight/rape/sex scene that Themistokles and Artemisia have in the second act. Everything else is just going through the motions.

EW-300-rise-of-an-empire-bannerThe acting here, with one exception is bland, boring, and derivative, and when the movie you’re ripping off is the first one in this now franchise, you know that you’re dealing with some low hanging fruit (no pun intended, considering the costumes these actors are wearing). The only interesting performance belongs to Eva Green, who goes all out as the only real badass in the film. A scene where she cuts someone’s head off and then makes out with it perfectly describes her character. The moments where she’s the focus of the flick are really the only ones worth paying attention to, and that’s a credit to Green’s go for broke performance. Aside from her, it’s a yawn fest. Sullivan Stapleton is the lead, but he just apes Gerard Butler’s role here, with diminishing returns. I could almost see him yawning at times. Rodrigo Santoro again mostly stays in one place and glares, while Lena Headley returns, more or less just to narrate. New faces include the aforementioned Naor, along with Jack O’Connell, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, Andrew Tiernan, David Wenham, and others, but they’ve got little to do but show off their abs. The only performance here worth a damn is Green’s, and it’s a shame that it’s wasted in a movie like this one.

Noam Murro once made an interesting little indie called Smart People, but there’s nothing smart about this flick. Yes, the script handed to him by Snyder and co-writer Kurt Johnstad is pretty terrible, but Murro is content to just ape Snyder in whatever way that he can. This includes all of the original’s stylistic choices, from the color scheme to the slow motion/fast forward fights (seriously, played at normal speed, I feel like this movie is a half hour long). I can’t imagine how Murro wasn’t bored stiff doing this. The pacing is pretty poor too, as one repetitive scene after another lingers on, up to and including the conclusion, which is asking for a sequel that I hope we don’t get. It’s basically the same thing as last time, only on the water.

It’s possible that those of you who enjoyed the first one will get some sort of enjoyment out of 300: Rise of an Empire, but as someone who shrugged their way through that one, this only got worse for me. The only reason to even consider seeing this film is for Green’s gonzo work, but honestly, even that’s not nearly enough. Stay far away from this one folks, it’s one of the worst of 2014 so far…

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!