Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, lots of half naked men
Set before, during and after the battle of Thermopylae in which the 300 Spartans were eventually defeated by Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) vast Persian army, Rise of an Empire is told predominantly from the point of the view of the Athenian army, led by Themistocles (Stapleton). After failed attempts at persuading the Spartans to join him to form a united Greece to face the Persians he is left to face the Persian fleet led by the skilled and manipulative warrior Artemisia in the Aegean. The Persian fleet is much more vast in strength and numbers, and if the the Athenians are to overcome these highly unfavourable odds then Themistocles’ leadership and strategic intelligence will be tested like never before.
Is it a sequel? Is it a prequel? Well, Rise of an Empire is both and yet neither. The true story of the Persian Wars is indeed a great story of greed, bravery and all the other flaws and virtues that make us human. Though for a better account of that it is better to read the exhausting The Histories by Herodotus (I had to) than either Frank Miller’s graphic novels or the films. Though always going for visual style over an involving character driven epic, 300 was admittedly a riotous (and slightly homoerotic) romp that was good fun, if slightly vacuous entertainment. However, though I never expected will written characters, a genuine sense of danger or indeed a coherent history lesson, I think it would have been reasonable to expect Noam Murro’s tale of (some of) the Athenian’s battles against the Persians to be fun. However he, despite Zack Snyder being co-writer and producer, has turned what was a truly epic series of battles into an extremely dull film.
Murro seems happy to simply copy and paste Snyder’s style from 300 and hope that is enough. 300 at least had a clear narrative that took very little time to get going, while Rise of an Empire gets constantly bogged down by boring exposition. Despite Rise of an Empire being only 102 minutes in length the opening explanations (provided by Lena Headey’s returning Queen Gorgo) of who all are characters are takes ages, and then the action itself is somewhat uninspiring. Every time someone gets even a paper cut Murro feels the need to slow things down and have CGI claret spread all over the screen. In fact without the pointless exposition and constant slow-mo shots of CGI blood we would probably be left with a 30 minute film, talk about filler!
I know many have already said this, but Rise of an Empire puts into perspective how half decent and extremely good fun 300 was. This is not only down to the differing narrative structures, but also in 300 we had a hairy half naked constantly shouting Scotsman to keep things together. Here our protagonist is a charisma vacuum Australian with an accent all over the place that no one would want as their leader in times of war. Again I would not expect this film to examine with any depth the flawed and interesting character of Themistocles, but someone to at least root for would be nice. As Themistocles’ nemesis Eva Green hams it up outrageously, but at least is having a bit of fun. In fact, all the performances are pretty awful and cringe worthy to watch, worst of all is Jack O’Connell’s attempts at a well spoken and stern accent. He may only turn up briefly a few times, but David Wenham’s one eyed Dilios still manages to out act everyone.
As all the CGI sea battles occur they are admittedly watchable, but never truly captivating or exciting. There are the occasional equally dramatic and ludicrous moments, but due to the slightly all over the place narrative and extensive and repetitive slow-mos it all feels disjointed and simply a little boring. For good measure there is also an absolutely embarrassing and unintentionally funny sex scene to rival the one in Watchmen (Oh, Zack Snyder again!) and some absolutely horrific dialogue such as “You’ve come a long way to stroke your cock while real men train” and “You fight harder than you fuck”. Oh dear!
A belated (sort of) sequel that has truly proved to be not worth the wait, Rise of an Empire copy and pastes to have the visuals of its predecessor but simply lacks any of the fun or shouting bearded Scotsman to prevent it from being anything other than predominantly boring.