Blood, gore and the occasional deep thought: that’s what was to be expected from the successor of 300. Surprisingly, though, it is much more than that.
While Leonidas sets out with his 300 Spartan warriors to face the Persians, other Greek city states are rallying their forces to protect Greece from the Persian dominance. But the Persians are many and the Greek are few, and so it is up to the renowned General Themistocles, who is supposed to lead the Greek into battle with sophisticated tactics and maneuvers – all this against the deadliest and most ruthless woman in the Persian empire, Xerxes’s naval commander Artemisia…
Inside some gruesome heads
While there are many similarities between 300: Rise of an Empire and its predecessor, there are also many differences. For one, this latest instalment has stepped up its game enormously in the plot area: while 300 went, more or less, “Here is your plot in 15 minutes, that’s enough for now,” this film actually has a more complicated plot that seeps in throughout the whole experience. Granted, there is still a lot of stylistically bizarre fighting going on, there is still an excessive amount of blood and gore, but it wouldn’t be a 300 film if there wasn’t; it’s the stylistic trademark of this franchise. But what Rise of an Empire also has is interesting characters. While the main motivation is going to war – defending or, on the Persian’s side, conquering Greece – there is a much deeper connection that can be made to the characters which become much more accessible – especially on the enemy’s side. After learning Artemisia’s background story, maybe you can actually understand why she’s doing what she’s doing with such a strange passion, explaining how her twisted mind came, partly, to be – not to mention that she’s quite a strong female character, and one I wouldn’t have expected to encounter. Xerxes is no longer simply a pretentious god-king, but deep inside he used to be a broken son as well. This complicates things, of course; while you clearly know who you are to root for (hint: it’s the Greeks), you just cannot help but shrug a bit and think, ‘Yes, but well, they have a point, don’t they?’ And think that, maybe, just possibly, if it’s not too much of a hassle, there could be some agreement after all.
Masterful stylistic scenes – if you can stomach the blood
In the style of 300, Rise of an Empire does not spare a single dime in the gore department. If you cannot see the blood that well from this angle, how about we just turn the camera by 90 degrees? Ah, much better. Let’s play a game: how can we get as much blood as possible on the camera with just one sword cut? It should be perfectly clear that nobody should go and watch this if they are not into gore – or at least don’t mind it too much. The stylistic language adds an extra level to the film and definitely makes up a huge part of its attraction. In all fairness, to me it felt quite a bit like the effect you get in video games, when you get a certain combo right and the game slows down to show you how magnificently and disturbingly a head can come off. It may somehow put you off, but you’re somewhat intrigued as well. Or maybe that’s just me.
No shallow vision
300: Rise of an Empire was made for 3D, and I believe it is one of those movies that only give you the full awesome effect if you watch them accordingly. I watched it in IMAX and found it a great experience – intense, icky, immersive, and yet with such strong stylistic visuals that they distance you from the film, giving you a chance to marvel at its technical side. It’s certainly not wrong if a movie does that, and although I am normally sceptical of movies that value visuals and stylistic grammar over plot and characters, it is just what you would expect of any 300 movie. It’s no longer just a means to an end, it is the desired end. Mix that with the excellent acting of, for instance, Lena Headey and Eva Green, and you can spend your time being quite entertained indeed.
Of course the plot, while more complicated than in 300, is not astonishingly deep, and I would have been surprised if it had been, but it has something to offer – more, in my opinion, than 300 does. I quite enjoyed the first film as well as a nice gore-based fighting experience, but if I had to pick, I’d go for Rise of an Empire for absolutely exceeding my somewhat sceptical expectations. Actual characters vs. ‘just a bunch of dead people’, Themistocles’s heroic war speeches vs. Leonidas’s characteristic ‘This is Sparta’ one-liners – they both have a certain charm to them…