300 returns with another installment

By: Seth Culp-Ressler | The Duquesne Duke

AP Photo - Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles in a scene from the  film 300: Rise of an Empire.
AP Photo – Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles in a scene from the film 300: Rise of an Empire.

I must admit, going into 300: Rise of an Empire, I was harboring some preconceived notions about how the film would pan out. Be it my fantastic prediction skills, or maybe a mere lucky guess, my assumptions turned out to be largely sound. Is that a good thing? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for.

Rise of an Empire largely serves to provide context to the events surrounding the 2006 blockbuster, 300. That film focused on the Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his band of 300 soldiers as they fought against the insurmountable forces of Persian “God King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). 300: Rise of an Empire looks to continue its forbearer’s theme of massive combat and nonstop action, all within the realm of an ominous and overcast ancient Greece.

It is around this previous battle that the story of Rise of an Empire builds itself. We have a new hero to admire — Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), a cunning and ruthless Athenian general. Under his lead the small Athenian army is pitched against the very same invading Persian forces that would defeat Leonidas and his 300 men. We follow the Athenians through their various battles, each more devastating than the last.

The majority of these conflicts occur not on land, but on the seas, where the Persian’s 1,000-ship navy reigns supreme. Led by Artemisia (Eva Green), a fiercely skilled warrior and shrewd captain, the Persians are poised to yet again overpower their enemies. It is worth noting that including Artemisia, a woman, as a strong, leading character offered a refreshing break from the typically testosterone-riddled landscape of the film. By the final battle Themistocles’ forces have been reduced to a sliver of their original numbers, while Artemisia’s losses are largely inconsequential. With bloodthirsty war cries piercing the air, the ships collide and soldiers launch into the fray.

That image is one the viewer will have come to be quite familiar with by this point in the film. In fact, a decent description of Rise of an Empire is simply a battle interspersed with a few periods of downtime. It is an action blockbuster in the truest sense of the word. This brings about one of the first problems with the movie — the plot isn’t so good. Now, that is not to say that some sort of story doesn’t exist, it most certainly can be found. The problem is, it isn’t a very good one. Being predictable at best, and downright eye-roll worthy at worst, it leaves a lot to be desired.

I doubt that many moviegoers are attend a 300 film in search of a riveting storyline. They are, undoubtedly, in it for the Hollywood-style battle scenes, and as previously mentioned, there are plenty of those. This is where Rise of an Empire gets it right. There are enough gratuitous slow-motion fight sequences, brutal takedowns and bloody splatters to appease any action fiend. And, lest we forget, washboard abs and rippling muscles abound as well.

Of course, the large-scale naval battles depicted are anything but realistic, but this is one of those times where it is best to just suspend any disbelief. Such tactics are also necessary in the scenes where flat backgrounds betray some quite obvious green-screen use, but again that isn’t what 300 is about. The real focus is the CGI, and its implementation throughout the film was well done. Large-scale battles are immersive and suitably over-the-top, and the gloomy color palette adds to the menacing mood. Pleasingly, the acting is well done; Green in particular does a notably engaging job. I doubt any awards will be presented on any of the actors’ or actresses’ behalves, but it honestly was not bad.

The fate of 300: Rise of an Empire is largely up to both the viewers’ mindset going in and their goals of what they hope to get out of the movie. If you are hoping for an intellectually stimulating film that will dwell in your thoughts for the coming days, disappointment awaits. But, if you’re looking for a mindless journey into a world of epic battles and bloody fights, you should come away quite pleased with your selection.