Sometimes there are movies that escaped me along the way. A film that, for whatever reason, I never caught in the theater or on Blu-ray / DVD. One such ridiculous example of my oversight is Zack Snyder's adaptation of Frank Miller's "300." I've always wanted to see it and heard how great it was. The fact that it was based on a graphic novel by the same genius who wrote "The Dark Knight Returns" and "Batman: Year One" makes the whole situation more unacceptable. To make matters even worse for myself, I did the unthinkable. I watched "300: Rise of an Empire" before seeing the original.
Some will gasp in utter disgust and immediately stop reading this review. Others will find my fresh eyes and impartial opinion of the sequel a breath of fresh air. I went into "300: Rise of An Empire" with nothing to compare it to or any preconceived notions of what it should be. All that being said, I found the movie to be an entertaining (if not completely accurate) telling of the Battle of Salamis.
After his defeat of Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae, Persian god-king Xerxes marches forward toward the city-states of Greece. With Athens as the first stop on his path of destruction, the city's admiral Themistocles must lead his garrison of soldiers against Xerxes and his new vengeful ally, Persian naval commander Artemisia. Will his soldiers fight alone, or can Themistocles convince Leonidas's widow to send the Spartans into the fight again?
Director Noam Murro brings every gory element you would expect from an R-rated sword-and-sandal epic to "300: Rise of an Empire." There are no quick slashes or splashes of blood to be found here. Every swing of a sword and puncturing of skin is slowed down to give viewers the optimum amount of time to take in all the bodily harm and decapitations.
I will say that at times the narrative parts of "300: Rise of an Empire" seemed like minor segue ways to the different fight scenes put in front of us. However, Screenwriters Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad did do a good job of weaving the backstories of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Artemisia (Eva Green) into all the bloodshed and action. Santoro is as equally creepy in "Rise of an Empire" as he is in the first film. Green comes very close to stealing the show and making the "manly" Spartans and the Persian armies both look like sissy boys.
"300: Rise of an Empire" is rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity, and some language. The sex scene is quite graphic and borders on sadomasochism. I found some of the bad language to be a little out of place for a period piece.
The DVD version of "300: Rise of an Empire" comes with some "behind-the-scenes" bonus material for viewers. Featurettes include "The 300 Effect," "3 Days in Hell," Brutal Artistry," and "A New Breed of Hero." The extra feature "Taking the Battle to the Sea" is made up of sections entitled "Real Leaders & Legends," "Women Warriors," "Savage Warships," and "Becoming a Warrior."
I did watch the superior "300" the next night to see what I'd been missing all these years. "300: Rise of an Empire" does a great job following up the original. Director Murro and Cinematographer Simon Duggan do a great job mimicking what Zack Snyder and Larry Fong created. It definitely feels like a direct extension of "300," which it should. This is the perfect example of imitation being the best form of flattery.
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