First things first. 300: Rise of an Empire has a very interesting sex scene. In fact it’s one of the most entertaining sex scenes I’ve ever seen in a Hollywood film. A guy who grew up in the 90’s will remember the scenes from Nine 1/2 Weeks and Basic Instinct, and a contemporary bloke will tell his friends about the scene in this movie. It features Eva Green, a battle board and a whole lot of hilarious wrestling.
Don’t judge me for starting this review with a description of the sex scene, because the movie is aimed at people like me who want to watch some blood, gore and sexytime on the big screen. Zack Snyder’s 300 was not exactly a narrative masterpiece – it was a ridiculously good looking film with generous amounts of eye popping visuals and T&A. It had imagery never seen before in cinemas – it was fresh and bold and pretty darn entertaining. 300: Rise of an Empire is as visually arresting and well packaged as its predecessor, but herein lies the problem – it has stuff we’ve seen before many times, because it has arrived seven years after the first film.
The new film is a sequel and a prequel, jumping forward and backwards in time, sifting through the events of the first film. That makes it a narrative and editing mess, with the filmmakers having no idea of what or whom to focus on. At one point we’re led to believe that this is going to be Xerxes’ (Santoro) film, and then we’re told to follow Artemisia’s (Green) story instead. Not enough? Here’s Themistocles (Stapleton) as the Greek army hero and Queen Gorgo (Headey) who tries to jut in the party and become the ‘main’ character. I still am not sure who the protagonist and the antagonist were, although just like in the previous movie I was shown the Greeks as the good guys in the end. The first movie was based on a graphic novel so it followed its storyline, but there is no reason why the filmmakers would again choose to side with the Greeks in this film. Greece and Persia have a rich and bloody history and the film neither remains historically accurate nor makes any decent argument on why the Persians were the baddies. It’s like the Russians always being the bad guys in American video games.
Is the action any good? Hell yes. The pitch sea battles are stunning, as is the thumping music that accompanies them. That way the film is never boring. Like video game levels the Persians keep sending different ships with different bosses and the Greeks device ways to counter them. It’s the exact same structure of the first film, and there’s even an Ocean version of the Hot Gates. There is enough sword smashing, cutting, slicing, punching, decapitating and necrophilia to keep you interested. The action sequences are certainly not as iconic as the ones in 300, barring one where in a huge uncut take Themistocles horse rides across three ships and battles Artemisia. The problem arises in the scenes in between the action mayhem where we’re forced to look at people who are even blander than in the previous movie. It’s when you want to tell director Noam Murro dude just give us the action, not the lame and boring attempts at character development.
(First published in MiD Day)