Lets be honest, was anyone really counting on this movie? Did it seem to come out of nowhere? Well not quite, it was set to open last year but was moved 7 months with a delay that had no official explanation by Warner Brothers. Originally set to be released last August, no teaser trailer was even ready by the looming close in date so one can possibly assume that they didn't want to rush it coming off the 2006 smash hit adapted from the great Frank Miller and his graphic novel. The question is was it worth the wait?
Lets dive into a brief overall summary of whats going on this time around in this action heavy, blood soaked, testosterone filled, visual eye candy of a movie...
It immediately picks up with the rest of Sparta and Greece trying to figure out whats the next move with the looming collapse of their entire civilization that lays before them. After the victory over Leonidas' 300, Xerxes and his Persian Army make great stride for conquering the rest of the Greek, eyeing the democratic city Athens as his next supreme win.
The only problem? Themistocles. A natural strong willed General and effective Commander of the Greek allied Navy who carries the weight of preserving Greece from being wiped from history and is set on doing so at any cost much like the Spartan tradition in which he embodies. Sullivan Stapleton handles this role and well near the entire duration but doesn't give us enough depth to truly invest in but performs the role the best he can.
Now Lena Headey returns as one of my favorite characters from the first as Queen Gorgo. This is relief and disbelief with her role this time I'm sad to say yet she vigorously continues to fight and defend Sparta when we are given her scenes that come in at different times. I loved her because she was strong headed and committed to her people knowing the importance of sacrifice and honoring tradition and code. She may of fell from grace for a brief moment by giving in to Theron upon his 'request' in order to save her husband, the 300 and Sparta but ultimately redeemed herself by killing him and showing his corrupt vision and the fact that he was a traitor, reestablishing her worth to the council. Now the reason i say theres some disbelief with her return is her acting seemed phoned in at times and her stance was opposite on what it should of been to the request that Themistocles later asks of her. Still nice to see that role again it just was slightly unbalanced.
Now my favorite part to talk about...Eva Green!
Artemisia I of Caria, Naval Commander, Ass Kicker and Xerxes right hand woman! If anyone doesn't know who Ms. Green is then i suggest checking out Casino Royale, The Dreamers, Womb, Perfect Sense and Dark Shadows. She is a powerhouse waiting to be given the right role to be a house hold name and i would love to see her as Wonder Woman but thats another post. If I'm being totally honest here, she's the only one who carries this 100%. Her smokey raccoon makeup only helps draw you into her beautiful stunning, even hypnotic Blue-Green eyes leaving you in awe with a curious wonderment of what crazy thing she'll do next as hinted by her wicked grin. Artemisia is vicious as she is cunning, she maybe under Xerxes rule but she makes it clear she doesn't take orders from anyone.
Now one scene some may complain at is the sex scene with her and Themistocles. While some may lay claim that its sexist or makes her look weak, its quite the opposite. I will admit a few frames could of been removed as I'm sure they were extended for viewing pleasures but she herself propositions it with a goal in mind for a tactical advantage, I'm not going to spoil it but it doesn't ruin the integrity of the film it just wasn't a necessity. That being said though, i would find it hard for a viewer to not find any appeal in her as she offers many other aspects to admire. She's a savage when it comes to killing as her bloodlust seems to never subside but only grow hungrier as she dispatches those in her way without a second thought as fire burns in her eyes. Eva embodies this role so well you cant help become attached.
The story itself intertwines with its predecessor, fully flushing out any left holes or questions that may of been left lingering except one, which ill mention later in closing. Its cohesiveness is to be appreciated for the most of it's main course of the hour and forty two minutes but 10-15 of those could of easily been shaved off to maintain the balance and speed that at times felt dull, none the less, it works for the most part.
Those who are looking for the over stylized fight sequences, they are here in full as well as the standard slo-mo shots, this time doubled in the amount. I noticed they focused way more on this effect which wasn't necessarily tacky but took away the coolness factor of it after a short period of time eventually ending in being a bit monotonous. One thing that did come off a bit odd was Murro's over use of effect particles, being of dust or ambers. There was a good lengthy segment featuring our warriors in an interior building talking amongst each other and every single frame had particles in it that stood out creating a slight distraction that wasn't needed. Maybe he likes them like JJ likes his flares. The digital blood was another disappointment for me at least for the first half, I've always been one intrigued with FX so i take notice in detail and maybe they did it on purpose for quick shots but it came off cartoony to me. It seems like it was story boarded to death, big gushes and sprays of rich blood are non stop in this to the extreme probably for the use of 3D which i did not see in for a good reason. Certain films are fine using that while others are not. Im not sure how clean the 3D effect is or coloration but with this cinematography i wanted to see it in its full glory without any cheap effect diminishing it as this wasn't shot in real 3D but converted.
Now back to what i had mentioned in the beginning about something they left out that shocked me seeing how they covered all other angles it seemed was the cliffhanger the original left us with. The result of Queen Gorgo getting her request granted by council to obtain full support from all ends of Greece and that glorious shot of the army on the other side of the hill coming to Xerxes that left us only imagining the vengeance to be had was sadly never once revisited. Why it wasn't even though this was a continuation of that is beyond me and maybe explained in later commentary, hopefully.
Aside the aforementioned minor gripes, the film is EPIC in scope, visually at least, but the depth of its deep-focus composition is somewhat at odds with its characterization and plotting. There's some familiar themes that you original fans will enjoy seeing played out but ultimately 'Rise of an Empire' fails to lift the series to new heights. It gives all its blood, sweat and glory but fails at what the most important thing Spartans had, heart.
Behind The Scenes:
Eva's biggest dream was fulfilled with this, to be a action hero. In her own words on Artemisia, "the strongest, toughest, bravest character i've ever played" and a superior job at that. She was the only choice for the role as there were no second picks so its a good thing she said yes to the part!
Sullivan who played Themistocles was worried about not being able to bulk up like Gerald did for Leonidas but worries were put at ease when he was asked to slim down seeing how Athenians were not as big as the Spartans were.
This serves as a prequel and sequel.
Filmed entirely in Bulgaria in massive green-screen sound stages of Nu Boyana Studios.
Almost all of Xerxes scenes were shot with actor Rodrigo Santoro alone in a green-screen room with little interaction from the rest of the cast due to the complicated effects involved to make him a 10 foot giant.
Fact Source: IMDB