There are probably quite a few more family friendly movies out there than this one. There are also probably quite a few better films out there. But, let’s just stop kidding ourselves and get right to the heart of the matter: there probably aren’t too many better guilty pleasure films than “300: Rise of an Empire.”
Yeah, I know. It’s violent and historically inaccurate. It’s not really all that well written. The CGI stuff is quite excessive and doesn’t necessarily help the film’s connectivity from beginning to end. But, man, after a long day, or week, or whatever, I can’t think of too many other movies that totally remove you from your minimalistic day-to-day human existence and take you into a world so very opposite the one you know and appreciate.
Now, to be clear, I’m not considering “300: Rise of an Empire” to be an Oscar worthy motion picture. Save for the visual effects categories, it isn’t anywhere close. And, to be even blunter, I wouldn’t say it’s one of those films that if you chose not to see it would come back around the water cooler conversation so frequently you’d feel lost. But it is engaging because its dark visuals and grotesquely violent overtone offer a fairly specific perspective that seems to unapologetically argue for nontraditional factors driving a film forward versus boring stuff like, say, a refined script.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is the sequel to the 2007 film “300,” and it takes on a lot because its events happen in and around the Battle of Salamis, which took place in plus or minus 480 BC and pitted the entire Persian Empire against several Greek city-states who weren’t afraid to step to the plate and swing for the fences. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) gave “300: Rise of an Empire” an R rating for “strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language.” Heck, that should be a more than sufficient plot summary.
As Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) tells about the Battle of Marathon, King Darius I’s son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), is convinced by Artemisia (Eva Green) that his father’s advice of not continuing to battle the Greeks were in reality a challenge. After a quest in the desert, Xerxes returns to Persia and declares war on Greece. Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) immediately begins to prepare and heads to Sparta so he can ask King Leonidas (Gerard Butler…in a flashback) for some help. He doesn’t get much of a response, but does learn more about Artemisia and her Greek roots.
Fast forward just a tad to find Themistocles taking his army to the Aegean Sea and ramming Persian ships, killing their enemies and retreating. Violent fighting ensues, and despite Artemisia’s best efforts, she cannot convert Themistocles to her side instead of his. She later confronts him and leaves him for dead as her forces retreat, but he survives and reorganizes, setting the stage for an epic Battle of Salamis that leaves more folks dead and bloodied than anything else.
The production team does a decent job weaving things together in a manner that provides some structure, but somehow manages to keep “300: Rise of an Empire” from feeling like it is a documentary. Director Noam Murro, the five producers (including Zack Snyder) and the writers (Snyder again) seemed to very well understand the type of film they had set out to make, and they did it quite unapologetically. The pace and flow are consistent all the way through, even if the content isn’t all that great to scream about. I can respect the approaches even if they aren’t going to line up with what the status quo might desire.
The film’s action sequences are its true star. The performances by the actors are far from stellar, which isn’t a major surprise. Stuff like this runs on pure adrenaline and if it slows down, well, it loses its trademark pretty darn quick. I can’t really remember the emotional moments (probably because they are few and far between), but at the same time the action is fast enough to engage you top to bottom. The key to enjoying “300: Rise of an Empire” is probably not taking it too seriously. In trying to analyze, you’re likely to find flaws, and if you stay on the surface above all else, you’ll be able to at least try to enjoy it despite the core elements it doesn’t have or work to achieve.
“Game of Thrones” lovers can rejoice because “300: Rise of an Empire” will help to keep the community of like minded content very well populated. It isn’t a polished film, save for the visuals, but it is well-targeted to a very specific audience that probably eats the content up without even thinking twice. Heck, I went into it thinking I’d finish the 108 minutes poised to write a negative review. Instead, well, I hope I’m at least being neutral.
The 1080p High Definition 2.40:1 image is a pretty clean one all the way through. The film relies primarily on dark colors to tell its story, and it succeeds because the lighting is well timed and placed. Grain doesn’t really pop up at all, and the CGI is noticeable but not so much so that it distracts from the on screen blur of action and violent combat. I also enjoyed the balance between different cinematography and its impact on the overall visual experience. It’s not the best Warner Bros. Blu-ray disc transfer I’ve seen to date, but it holds its own.
Ah, this is the film’s real star. The English DTS-High Definition Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack is superb, with metal slicing bone poignancy. Everything comes through with precision for your ears in a way I don’t think most expected, but it is of course fitting given the film’s rather over the top nature. The battle scenes are of course the star here, too, with everything from waves crashing to ships colliding to screaming and the like. It’s a great audio experience, and one that I wish I could have had in IMAX. Other choices are a French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are English, Spanish and French.
A standard definition DVD and digital copy are here for the taking in the combo pack, as well as several featurettes and insight onto the physical regimens each on screen performer had to endure in order to make their roles all the more potent. There is also some interesting comparing and contrasting to the history the film borrows its content from, which I appreciated.
A Final Word:
Settle in, hold on, don’t think too much or take it too seriously. Using this approach, you’re about five times more likely to enjoy “300: Rise of an Empire.” Replay value here might be higher than expected, too, but given how extreme it feels after one viewing, a little rest in between feels much deserved.