300-rise-of-an-empire-sullivan-stapleton

Like its predecessor, 300: Rise of an Empire is bloodthirsty, excessively gory, and unapologetic –- in other words, just what its fans were hoping for.

Rather than pick up immediately after the original 300, in which the valiant Spartans took on a massive army of Xerxes’ Persians at Thyrmopylae, 300: Rise of an Empire actually begins simultaneously -– just as things happened in real Greek history. And though many characters are simplified, expanded, or comic-bookified for modern viewers, there are a few tablespoons’ dose of respect for the history, which is more than can be said of most violent epics.

In the sequel, our hero is Themistocles the Athenian (Sullivan Stapleton), who proves just as courageous as the Spartan Leonidas, but in the Athenian way. He fights for freedom and democracy, not for Spartan autonomy, but he also has enough sense to know the Greeks face certain end if they cannot unite behind one banner.

Featuring flashbacks to the clash at Marathon all the way through the famous Battle of Salamis, director Noam Murro serves up plenty of naval warfare, sometimes to the point of redundancy.  The hulls of ships clashing into other ships as blood splatters and the low horns blast can only fascinate for so long until it becomes tiresome, and that is 300: Rise of an Empire’s greatest weakness. The personal backstories and character development are thin at times, but appropriately so. In fact, many of the film’s greatest moments are the quieter conversations between Themistocles and the Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), or his wrathful repartee with Greek-turned-Persian commander Artemesia (Eva Green). Also, the transformation of Xerxes from man to god – though fictional – is presented with compelling narrative, and serves as an excellent platform for future 300 endeavors.

The acting is also quite strong, as the little-known Stapleton perfectly embodies the wiser-but-still-rugged Athenian warrior. Stapleton plays his man with more restraint than, say, Sam Worthington in Clash of the Titans, but that’s to his credit. He looked the part, acted the part, and likely procured more creative parts in the future as a leading man. The most effective performance, however, comes from the seductive Green, who has made a recent habit of combining sensuality with hatred. Her darkened soul bubbles beneath her eyes throughout the picture, and unlike many warrior-cast women who look the part but barely pass muster in the fighting department, she executes her slashes and footwork with believable prowess. Headey, in her brief moments, continues to show why she is a rising actress, stemming from her virtuosic performances on Game of Thrones. And it was nice to see David Wendham back as well, if only for a couple of minutes.

This year, there has been much talk – spurred on by Gravity, Pacific Rim, and other bombastic pictures – about the value of IMAX, and 300: Rise of an Empire definitely falls into that category. Some films are seemingly intended more for home viewing than the theatrical experience, but if you want to enjoy this movie for all its worth, the 3D IMAX ticket is worth the price.

300: Rise of an Empire is no masterpiece, will probably be forgotten in a couple of months, and carries neither the novelty nor quality of its predecessor, but it is still a fairly solid, finely crafted piece for its target market.

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