"Better we show them, we chose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees!"
I was a huge fan of Zach Snyder's 300 when it was first released, but was later disappointed by Sucker Punch as well as other recent adaptations, so I wasn't expecting much from this sequel considering the novelty of these violent graphic novel adaptations had warn off a bit. Sin City still ranks as my favorite, but I did really enjoy 300 and Watchmen as well. In 300: Rise of an Empire there are some great scenes and strong visuals, but nothing we haven't seen before. The violence is once again stylized but after a while it feels repetitive and I felt the pacing began to drag despite all the action scenes. The characters weren't as interesting as the Spartans in 300, but the villain is much better here. Eva Green's performance is was ultimately makes this film worth a watch and I think this is one of her best roles yet. She is perhaps the best developed character in this film and gives an inspiring performance which allows us to forgive the sense of empty stylized violent action scenes we are overloaded with in this sequel/prequel. The writing also could have used some of those memorable dialogues from the first film that many of us still haven't grown tired of quoting. This film doesn't live up to the original, but it is entertaining enough to give it a mild recommendation.
In 300: Rise of an Empire we get an extension of the events that occurred in the original film which focused only on one of the Greek states: Sparta. This time we get a glimpse of what is going on with the other states and the film opens with a narration from Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) of the Battle of Marathon when the Persians invaded Greece for the first time. The Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) manages to defeat the Persian king, Darius, by killing him from a distance with an arrow. Before he dies, he warns his son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) that no human should ever attack Greece again. Darius's commanding naval officer, Artemisia (Eva Green), tells Xerxes that what his father really meant was that in order to defeat Greece he would need to become a god king. And that is how the legend of Xerxes actually begins. Ten years later Xerxes attacks Sparta (the events that took place in the first film), while Artemisia prepares her fleet to face the Athenians. The two brilliant naval officers, Artemisia and Themistocles, prepare their men for the bloody battle.
Sullivan Stapleton is no Gerard Butler, but thankfully the film relies heavily on the villain and Eva Green excels in her role. There is one strange scene she shares with Stapleton that sort of comes out of nowhere and felt out of place. The film does drag by abusing too much on the stylized violence, but the production design does make the film interesting and fun to look at. Director, Noam Murro (who also directed the 2008 drama Smart People), didn't seem to have a firm hand in the direction and some of the scenes didn't feel right either. It still manages to be entertaining and fun for the most part, but one can't help and wonder about how empty it really is and how little we know about the actual characters. It doesn't matter though because we get cool enough visuals and slow motion action scenes to make it enjoyable enough. It is yet another example of style over substance, but if these graphic violent action scenes are your thing you might enjoy it.