300 Rise of an Empire wasn’t a sequel any one was particularly clamoring for. Except for those who made it, reaping $450 million gross on a $65 million budget. Empire isn’t a terrible film, operating as any sequel dose, by rehashing what its forbearer did with the slightest of twist. Director Noam Murro correctly applies the aesthetics that turned 300 director Zack Snyder, here just writer and producer, into a commercial success. Other than a bit more CG blood and less slow motion, it would be hard to say this wasn’t a Snyder film from its aesthetics and half backed politics and characters.
Look no further than the use of “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath in the films marketing and end credits. The songs clear anti-war stance contrasts greatly with a film that relishes in the glorification of bloody combat, with only half hearted attempts to show the cost of war. The instrumentation and opening lyrics make for an interesting montage but as the songs true purpose becomes apparent the dissonance overwhelms.
You can’t fault Rise of and Empire for going for epic bombast, even though it is apparent its gaze is beyond reach. The films turbulent development shows in its acting as a prequel, side story, and sequel all in one. In doing so Rise attempts to recast the Second Persian Invasion as an agent of unity for the Greek city states, hoisted on the back of Themistocles(Sullivan Stapleton). This end maybe achieved buy Stapleton’s Athenian general is under developed to make any of it, or the battles, emotionally resonate. 300 greatness was its simplicity and clear binary morality. Rise keeps this binary morality while trying to paint in literal and figurative shades of gray. Stapleton is introspective, this is a man who has ideals he wants to honor, having risen up the political food chain due to his heroics at the opening Battle of Marathon. Snyder and Mourro do a poor job narrating these ideals beyond broad strokes of nationalism and the righteousness of democracy. Themistocles idealisim is an appreciated attempt at a more complex protagonist against Gerard Butler’s King of Beefcake Masculinity, but like most things Synder related it ultimately lacks a proper center and lacks emotional resonance. Even when Stapleton gives the requisite “We chose to live on our feet” speech it fails to command the screen or move audiences, in what should be a moment of righteous glory.
It took me aback when I realized that 300 was 8 years ago. The film is the height of a sect of films from 2005 starting with Sin City and ending in 2008 with The Spirit that tried to take the comic book aesthetic and translate it “authentically” to film via green screen and computer wizardry. 300 created an extremely novel and visually pleasing aesthetic which would serve as the basis for other action films and notably the Starz series Spartacus. Rise use of this aesthetics is keeping in the franchise and lacks the novelty of the orginals harsh tones. The harsh crimson reds, browns, and golds are replaced here with shades of blue and grey for the majority of the film, making for a pleasing and smooth visual pallet for blood to splatter upon.