300: Rise of an Empire

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Queen Gorgo of Sparta tells her men about the Battle of Marathon, in which King Darius I of Persia was killed by General Themistocles of Athens 10 years earlier. Darius’ son, Xerxes, witnesses his father’s death, and is advised to not continue the war, since only “the gods can defeat the Greeks”. Darius’ naval commander, Artemisia, claims that Darius’ last words were in fact a challenge and sends Xerxes on a journey through the desert. Xerxes finally reaches a cave and bathes in an otherworldly liquid, emerging as the 8-feet tall “God-King”. He returns to Persia and declares war on Greece to avenge his father.

As Xerxes’ forces advance towards Thermopylae, Themistocles meets with the council and convinces them to provide him with a fleet to engage the Persians at the sea. Themistocles (the Athenian general) then travels to Sparta to ask King Leonidas for help, but is informed by Dilios that Leonidas is consulting the Oracle, and Gorgo is reluctant to side with Athens. Themistocles later reunites with his old friend Scyllas, who infiltrated the Persian troops and learned Artemisia was born Greek, but defected to Persia as her family was raped and murdered by Greek hoplites and she was taken as a sex slave, and subsequently left for dead in the streets. She was rescued and adopted by a Persian emissary. Her lust for vengeance gained the attention of King Darius and he made her a naval commander after she killed many of his enemies. Themistocles also learns that Leonidas has marched to fight the Persians with only 300 men.

Themistocles leads his fleet of 50 warships and several thousand men, which include Scyllas, Scyllas’ son Calisto and Themistocles’ right-hand man Aeskylos to the Aegean Sea, starting the Battle of Artemisium. They ram their ships into the Persian ships, charge them, slaughtering several soldiers before retreating from the sinking Persian ships. The following day, the Greeks feign a retreat and lead a group of Persian ships into a crevice, where they become stuck. The Greeks charge the Persian ships from the cliffs above and kill more Persians. Impressed with Themistocles’ skills, Artemisia brings him onto her ship where she has sex with him in an attempt to convince him to join the Persians as her second-in-command. He refuses, causing her to push him aside and swear revenge on him.

The Persians spill tar into the sea and send suicide bombers to swim to and board the Greek ships with their flame bombs. Artemisia and her men fire flaming arrows and torches to ignite the tar, but an Athenian manages to kill one of the Persians, who falls into the tar carrying a torch, causing ships from both sides to explode. Themistocles is thrown into the sea by an explosion and nearly drowns before being rescued by Aeskylos, and stands by Scyllas’ side as he succumbs to his injuries. Believing Themistocles to be dead, Artemisia and her forces withdraw. After recovering from his injuries, Themistocles learns that only a few hundred of his warriors and six of his ships survived the disastrous attack executed by Artemisia.

Daxos, an Arcadian general, tells Themistocles that Leonidas and his 300 men have been killed after Ephialtes betrays the Greeks to Xerxes. Themistocles returns to Athens and confronts Ephialtes. The deformed Spartan traitor reveals that Xerxes plans to attack and burn Athens to the ground. Ephialites is regretful of his actions, and is welcoming death. Themistocles spares him instead, so he can warn Xerxes that the Greek forces are gathering at Salamis. He then visits Gorgo in Sparta while she is mourning Leonidas’ death to ask for her help, but she is too overcome with grief. Before leaving, Themistocles returns Leonidas’ sword, which had been delivered to him by Ephialtes under Xerxes’s orders, and urges Gorgo to avenge Leonidas.

In Athens, Xerxes’ army is laying waste when Ephialtes arrives to deliver Themistocles’ message. Upon learning he is alive, Artemisia leaves to ready her entire navy for battle. Xerxes suggests a more cautious plan but she still leaves for battle, ignoring Xerxes’ advice. The remaining Greek ships charge into the Persians ships, and the two armies battle, beginning the decisive Battle of Salamis. Themistocles and Artemisia fight, which ends in a stalemate with both receiving severe injuries.

At this moment Gorgo, who had been narrating the tale to the Spartans, arrives at the battle along with ships from numerous Greek city states including Delphi, Thebes, Olympia, Arcadia, and Sparta, all of them uniting against the surrounded Persians. Daxos leads the Arcadian army while Themistocles urges Artemisia to surrender. Xerxes, watching the battle from a cliff, turns his back on her and continues the march of his infantry. Artemisia tries to kill Themistocles one last time but is killed as he stabs her through the stomach. Themistocles and Gorgo take a moment to silently acknowledge one another’s alliance as the remaining Persians charge while Dilios leads the assault. The three then charge at the opposing Persians with the whole Greek army.

REVIEW:

What do you call a film that takes place before, during, and after its predecessor? Yeah, I have no idea, either, but whatever it is, 300: Rise of an Empire is one of the few that fits that category. Is this –insert term– worthy of its predecessor or has the time between films hurt it more than help?

What is this about?

Rodrigo Santoro is back leading the Persian forces in their invasion of Greece as mortal-turned-god Xerxes. Determined to thwart him is Greek general Themistocles, who takes to the sea in his quest to unite his country.

What did I like?

Origin clip. When we are first introduced to Xerxes in 300, he is this giant freak of a man with piercings, chains, and gold all over his body. I’m sure that I am not the only one to question who this guy was and how he got this way, especially since none of the other Persians look anything close to the abomination he is. In the early goings of this film, we learn what set off the war between Persia and Greece, and we watch as Xerxes is transformed from a mere mortal to the “god-king” by a series of incantations and immersing himself in some kind of sacred transformation liquid. My curiosity has been quenched.

Eva. In the last two or three years, Eva Green has become a dream girl of geeks and nerds everywhere. To this day, I cannot tell you why. Of course, I’m not too familiar with her work. I think the biggest role I’ve seen her in before this was in Dark Shadows. Eva plays the evil bitch very well. She is arguably the best character in this film because of it. She also is the only major character to get a true back story and motivation for why she does what she does, making her that much more interesting.

Bloodthirst. This is a bloody and violent movie. People get decapitated, impaled, etc., and blood gushes all over the place. Some have said this is a major detriment to the picture, but I found it appropriate. Remember, this is based on historical fact, but a fantasized version of what happened. One has to remember the kind of film they are watching these days before they criticize something like this. Sure, if this were something accurate like say Spartacus, Troy, or the like, then I’d raise a fuss, but this is a film that we are meant to have fun with, so let’s just bathe in the blood that is spilled and enjoy!

What didn’t I like?

The voice. Going back to Xerxes, I have two complaints. First, they make such a big deal about him in the film’s first act. Themistocles rues the day that he didn’t kill father and son, and his letting the boy live is now burning down Greece. With all the talk about him, Xerxes is in maybe a handful of scenes. I’m pretty sure Rodrigo Santoro showed up and filmed his scenes in a day or two and then left. Second, in the original film, Xerxes’ voice was deep and powerful. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was aided by a computer. This time around, he seems to be struggling to get down to those lower octaves. It was a bit distracting, especially at first.

Speech. Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas gave some epic speeches in the previous film, as did the narrator Dillios. This time around, Themistocles makes an attempt to recapture the same presence that Butler had while inspiring his troops, but it just wasn’t working for me. He just came off as some guy talking, rather than a brilliant military mind leading his troops to battle on what could very well be their last day alive. Lena Headey’s narration didn’t do anything for me, either. Like Green, she is best suited as an evil bitch. When she plays a good character, it is just hard to swallow. Kudos to her acting in other roles, though. It takes some hard work to get to that level of hatred.

Needed? Years have passed since the original was released. Was anyone asking for a sequel? Perhaps following the first film, yes, but here we are about 10 yrs later. No one was clamoring for this. Before I start ranting and raving about how this is just another in a long line of sequels released way after the original that studies are cranking out, hoping to ignite a fire under movie audiences, and it just isn’t working, it should be said that this film was delayed because of some director issues (he left for another project). While I enjoyed the film, I don’t think we really needed this.

Final verdict on 300: Rise of an Empire? Well, first of all, the timeline is a bit confusing. This isn’t a sequel, nor is it a prequel. It exists along the same time as it’s predecessor, which is a tad bit confusing. Eva Green is giving all she can here, but it is for naught. Where is that yellowish filter from the previous film? The lighting in this one seemed as if they wanted to use full color, but then they changed their mind. Action and blood are very prevalent, keeping this from being a total waste of time, but I’m not sure it really was enough. Do I recommend this film? Reluctantly, I think I have to say yes, but proceed with caution, as this is nowhere near as good as the first, but on the flipside, it is bloodier and have some deeper story moments.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

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