Review: 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Review: 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (2014)

A surprisingly better-than-expected, if flawed follow-up to Zack Snyder's 300.

When Zack Snyder's 300 was screened back in 2006, the effects-heavy ancient epic was one-of-a-kind cinematic experience. It became such a beloved fan-favorite movie that many filmmakers tried to imitate the similar stylized technique (e.g. the super slow-motion, actors and props against computer-generated background, CGI blood-and-gore) with varying degree of success. Now, in this long-gestating sequel/side-quel, I originally never expected much from 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. After all, I thought the movie will be probably more of the same. However, upon finally watching the movie at the exclusive IMAX 3D sneak preview, I was surprised that the movie lives up beyond my low expectation.

300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE tells the other side of the story where Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads his army against Artemisia (Eva Green) on a naval battle by the sea, while King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, only appeared in recycled footage from 300) and his Spartan warriors engaged in their ill-fated battle against King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his Persian army on the land.
Prior to 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE, veteran Israeli commercials director-turned-feature filmmaker Noam Murro only has the 2008's dramedy, SMART PEOPLE to his credit. However, Murro manages to handle his first big budget studio production like a seasoned pro. Here, Murro proves to be an accomplished visual stylist like Zack Snyder himself (who only returned as one of the screenwriters and producers) after all. With the help of cinematographer Simon Duggan, Murro successfully recreates Snyder's stylized display of slow-motion violence and gore while his mix of fluid and gritty camerawork are put into good use. Thanks also to Murro's energetic direction, the action scenes -- especially the one involved the naval battle -- are electrifying. Other technical credits, including Junkie XL's throbbing score with a dash of sizzling Middle Eastern beat, are equally first-rate.

Zack Snyder's and Kurt Johnstad's screenplay is effective, especially the way it juggles between the main premise surrounding the naval engagement and several flashbacks/backstories without making them heavy-handed.

Cast-wise, Rodrigo Santoro is typically imposing as the ruthless King Xerxes while Lena Headey made adequate use of her limited screen time as Queen Gorgo. But it was Eva Green who steals the show with her wicked performance as Artemisia. In fact, it's simply refreshing to see a female actor commands the screen in this otherwise male-dominated movie.

The scene where Themistocles and his Greek army manage to outwit Artemisia and her crew by making their ships stumbled between the rocks, and another one where Artemisia stages a brilliant plan by creatively using oil to trap and blow up Themistocles' ships (you simply have to see it for yourself). Both of these well-staged strategies are particularly fascinating to watch for.

Queen Gorgo: You’ve come a long way to stroke your cock while real men train!
The absence of Gerard Butler is sorely missed in 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (his character is supposed to be featured here in the original script, but forced to cut out because Butler declined to return). After all, his iconic role as the fearless Spartan leader King Leonidas is simply unforgettable. But all can be forgiven if a new leading role is engaging enough to carry the movie. Unfortunately, Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton isn't really the one. Although he has the impressive physique, Stapleton looks somewhat bland and noticeably lack of rugged charm and commanding presence that Butler previously displayed very well in 300.

But the major flaw here is the anticlimactic finale that ends abruptly before the credit rolls. I mean, is it really necessary to make way for an open ending?

For those who are disappointed with the lackluster results of recent ancient epic failures (THE LEGEND OF THE HERCULES, POMPEII), 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE proves that this particular genre can stand tall if done right.

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