The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


300: Rise of an Empire

In 2006, I wrote the following words about 300: “Every few years, a film comes along that epitomizes what it means to be cool. The Matrix earned that honor in 1999. 300 earns it now.” I quote myself to make it clear how much I loved the original. It'll also help you understand how much I hate 300: Rise of an Empire.

I'm not sure whether to call this film a prequel, a sequel, or something else. Its story takes place parallel to that of 300, although sections of it occur before and after that film's events. Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the mortal who turned into a golden god, is seeking to create a powerful empire. Aiding him in his quest is Artemisia (Eva Green), the commander of the Persian navy. She's a much-feared foe, known for her ruthlessness as well as her beauty. A Greek general named Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) wants to fend them off. He seeks assistance from Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), the wife of 300's central figure, King Leonidas. The two sides repeatedly clash in a series of bloody slow-motion battles.

That's a very simplified version of the plot. 300: Rise of an Empire spends a lot of time on exposition. Queen Gorgo delivers lengthy voiceover monologues, while other characters repeatedly stop not only to explain what's going on, but also to pontificate endlessly on it. For what is essentially an action picture, there's way too much rambling dialogue here. It would be okay if what people were saying was interesting or relevant, but it merely seems to retread the same tired points again and again and again.

The joy of 300 was that it was fast-paced and exciting, with a commanding lead character. This film is missing those things. The pacing plods, despite the heavily-choreographed fight sequences. (There are only so many ways you can see heads being lopped off or CGI blood spurting at the camera before it stops being compelling.) A prime culprit is that Rise of an Empire doesn't try to bring anything new to the table. In fact, it seems perfectly content to be a retread of the original, visually and stylistically. The film sticks so closely to the playbook that it never finds a way to become fun on its own terms. You can feel it straining to capture lightning in a bottle twice – and failing. For as lousy as his career turned out to be, Gerard Butler was magnetic in the original; his over-the-top performance give it real energy. Sullivan Stapleton proves to be a stunningly charisma-free performer, and given that lead villain Eva Green oozes charisma, you virtually root for the good guys to lose.

In fact, Green is the only real selling point here (aside from one admittedly nifty sea battle half-way through). The actress chews the scenery with viciousness, creating a character so fascinatingly evil that I really, really wish she'd been in a much better film. Had 300: Rise of an Empire offered a hero worthy of standing toe-to-toe with her – and shown a willingness to do more than ape the style of the original – it could have been a worthy follow-up. Instead, it's a dull, pointless, and shockingly listless Xerox copy of a far superior movie.

( 1/2 out of four)

300: Rise of an Empire is rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language. The running time is 1 hour and 43 minutes.

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