300: Rise of an Empire (2014) Directed by Noam Murro. With Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey.
Although still on screen-writing duties, Zack Snyder vacates the director’s chair for this sequel to his 2006 hit film, 300. In steps Israeli film maker, Noam Murro with a furthering of the story, maintaining continuity not only in terms of extending the narrative, but also in that of style and tone from Snyder’s film.
Gone is the chest-thumping, heroic presence of Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas, making way for a new exposed torso of envy in that of Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistokles, leader of the Greek army, facing insurmountable odds, yet bravely going to war with the perennially unruly Persians.
In essence, this is a “more of the same” offering. It’s clearly targeting the tastes of those who invested in the first film, yet if there’s one thing that separates it from its predecessor, it is in the character of Artemisia, a Persian war general, played deliciously ‘over-the-top’ by Eva Green, who is by far and away the most interesting presence in the film. In her previous work, Green has displayed a knack for capturing that dark, sexy, bat-shit crazy femme-fatale, but it’s here that she truly rubber-stamps it.
Acquitting himself accordingly as the central hero of the piece, Sullivan Stapleton is a suitable, if not slightly bland replacement for Gerard Butler. That said, the last ‘300’ film wasn’t particularly notable for its in-depth character analysis. The real problem here, is that despite the many impressive looking battles sequences, we have little in the way of investment in them. Heads, legs and arms are routinely lopped off, with geysers of blood flying everywhere, even breaking the fourth wall by spraying onto the the camera lens. The production design continues with that slightly washed-out looking aesthetic, prescribing extra atmosphere with dark, billowing clouds and burning embers floating around each frame like fireflies.
The last 300 film suffered for being mostly style over substance. Inevitably, the same happens again. Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo sets the ‘plot’ framework in motion, narrating an introduction that sets up the characters, yet the plot is little more than a foundation for cramming as much violence and sex appeal into the 102min running time. Utterly daft, but made watchable thanks to Eva Green completely embracing and enjoying being utterly daft. 3/5