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Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is pitted against the massive invading Persian forces, ruled by the mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and led by Artemisia (Eva Green), the vengeful commander of the Persian navy. Knowing his only hope of defeating the overwhelming Persian armada will be to unite all of Greece, Themistokles ultimately leads the charge that will change the course of the war. (From WB’s official synopsis)

 300: Rise of an Empire
I was not a fan of Zach Snyder’s 300. I was impressed by its visual purity and amused by its blatant homoeroticism, but was bored stiff by its compulsively speed-ramped action, fascist zeal, and complete lack of human insight. There’s no denying the impact the film had on popular culture, especially the sea of similarly stylistic, green-screen dependent genre action that followed. Like all fads, however, the ‘screen saver’ sword & sandal epic wave seems to be ebbing, which means that the official sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, is arriving at least five years too late. The second movie still made a decent amount of cash at the worldwide box office, but feels oddly anachronistic at a time when similarly themed films have returned to more grounded imagery. Like watching a decades old one hit wonder performing new material at a state fair or gaming casino, Rise of an Empire is comforting in its familiarity, but also sort of embarrassing in its artistic obsolescence.

I do have consolations as a non-fan viewing a sequel to a film I didn’t like. High on the list is the fact that Zach Snyder didn’t direct Rise of an Empire (seemingly, he was too busy misunderstanding the most basic principles of Superman). Sure, his stink is all over the final film (he co-produced and co-wrote the screenplay), but replacement director Noam Murro does a decent job making Snyder’s template (itself almost slavishly devoted to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s original template) his own. Murro is also working with almost twice the budget of the first film, something that is both a blessing in terms of special effects quality and a hindrance in terms of overall creativity. Snyder’s successes with the original film were often based on his limitations, because they forced him into innovative problem solving. Rise of an Empire lacks the stage-like freshness of the original film and replaces it with blander CG bombast. Fans of Snyder’s purposefully flat, side-scrolling battles should be satisfied with Murro’s multi-axis, three-dimensional version – especially given the larger scale a bigger budget accommodates. There aren’t really any standout moments and none of the action has any genuine emotional impact, but there are still plenty of striking, impressionistic portraits mixed into competent, clearly stated imagery (it was very easy to find worthy screencaps for this review) – not to mention buckets of blood and gore.

 300: Rise of an Empire
The screenplay is reportedly based on Frank Miller’s unpublished follow-up graphic novel and co-written by Snyder and Kurt Johnstad (who, between the two 300 movies and Act of Valor, appears to be typecasting himself). It lacks the conceptual simplicity of the first film and recycles many pieces of that premise in creatively underwhelming ways. However, this second chapter avoids most of 300’s revolting political and social ideals/subtexts, making it a slightly more humanistic exercise in amplified jingoism, despite also being a more conventional one. The lack of Spartans and their over-simplified might-makes-right philosophy is helpful in this regard, because it means the good guys have to overcome fear and rely on tactics to secure their victory. There’s more mythology to latch onto this time around as well, including a fun exploration of Xerxes’ very fantastical back-story, giving Rise of an Empire a leg up in avoiding redundancy. I could’ve done with more creature moments than the one I got (which itself is probably just a dream), but understand the producers not wanting their franchise to be confused with the Clash of the Titans series.

As I understand it, Miller’s book would’ve revolved around Xerxes, who is a secondary character. This is another blessing, because the grossly homophobic/xenophobic caricature of the original movie isn’t the key villain – he is largely replaced by a female antagonist, Artemisia. Artemisia is played to the hilt by Eva Green, who revels in kissing severed heads, eating apples in a truly menacing manner, and flaring her eyes while threatening underlings. Lena Heady is also typically good, though she only appears briefly. Between her and Green, Rise of an Empire becomes something of a feminine-driven counterpart to the testosterone overload of the original (of course, glimpses of casual sexual assault aren’t exactly anti-misogynistic…). Sullivan Stapleton is decent as the protagonistic lead, Themistokles, though he plays his role pretty subtly compared to the endless scenery-munching committed by Gerard Butler in the first film. His inspirational speeches aren’t particularly inspiring.

 300: Rise of an Empire

Video


The original 300 was shot mostly on 35mm and processed all to hell using computers until it looked basically like a live-action cartoon. 300: Rise of an Empire skips a step by shooting entirely with Red Epic digital HD cameras. It was shot with IMAX 3D in mind, so the full force of the format’s hi-res capabilities is at the disposal of this 1080p, 2.40:1 2D Blu-ray transfer. The two films share a lot in terms of their basic graphic appearances, but 300’s tended to be flatter and more contrasty. Due in large part to the fact that it was intended for a 3D release, Rise of an Empire has more rounded depth and clarity, even in 2D. Murro and cinematographer Simon Duggan keep the physical elements (actors, costumes, set-pieces) relatively sharp, especially in close-up, where all the textural nooks and crannies really shine. Though, speaking of shining, the artificial glow of computer generated sunlight tends to line harder edges in soft light, which, along with the blurrier CG-heavy backdrops, tend to be smoothed out into clean swaths. Most impressive are the unfogged wide-angle establishing shots. The colour palette is limited to a handful of hues based on location, similar to the comics the film is based on. Sparta and Athens are generally golden and red, while the sea-faring sequences are more desaturated, including incredibly rich blacks and dull blues. Blood red, as always, is the punchiest colour. There are no notable compression artefacts outside of some ghosting effects during slow-motion action.

 300: Rise of an Empire

Audio


300: Rise of an Empire is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. Along with being shot for 3D IMAX, the soundtrack was designed for use with the Dolby Atmos system. That, coupled with its action spectacle and hyper-stylized overall design, makes for a very big and very aggressive mix. The action sequences are the standouts, including all kinds of multi-channel enhanced sword-clanging, arrow-slinging, firepot-flinging, and grunting. Sometimes, the sound is sucked out for the sake of drama and, other times, animal noises are blended into the punch of explosions, but the stereo and surround speakers remain active regardless. The dialogue tracks are warm and well-centered (aside from the occasional narration, which is given the stereo treatment) and incidental noises are amplified for maximum grit. The immersive qualities of creaking boats, crashing waves, and the perpetual rumble of thunder creates a nice sense of depth and activity. Composer/producer/engineer Tom Holkenborg (aka: Junkie XL) has taken over music duties from Tyler Bates for the sequel. I’m afraid I don’t remember Bates’ score very well, but believe I recognized some reused motifs here. At the very least, the Rise of an Empire score is a companion piece to 300’s, though, being a bigger-budget sequel, all musical elements are considerably magnified.

 300: Rise of an Empire

Extras


  • Behind the Scenes: The 300 Effect
    • 3 Days in Hell (7:10, HD) – An introduction to the pre-production and inception of the film, specifically the interactions between the two stories and returning characters.
    • Brutal Artistry (9:10, HD) – On the production/art design and direction.
    • A New Breed of Hero (4:50, HD) – Concerning the historical Themistokles and Sullivan Stapleton’s performance.
    • Taking the Battle to the Sea (8:50, HD) – About the technical challenges of the film’s naval battles.
  • Real Leaders & Legends (22:50, HD) – A look at the historical bases of the film’s characters and story.
  • Women Warriors (12:20, HD) – On the film’s two warring female characters.
  • Savage Warships (10:40, HD) – Concerning the design and history of the film’s seafaring vessels.
  • Becoming a Warrior (4:40, HD) – Footage from the intense training the actors went through.


 300: Rise of an Empire

Overall


I recognize that 300: Rise of an Empire is not a movie made for me and the fact that I enjoyed anything about it is probably respectable. It’s certainly an attractive movie, Eva Green is a joy, and the first couple action scenes are a fun 3D variation on the ones from the first movie, but it’s also repetitive, redundant, and, after about an hour, pretty boring. This 2D Blu-ray presentation is gorgeous and the DTS-HD MA 7.1 soundtrack is room-rumbling stuff. Extras are a bit tepid, but fill-in the basics of the behind-the-scenes process.

 300: Rise of an Empire

 300: Rise of an Empire
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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