Zack Snyder’s 300 was a filmic game changer. Adapted from legendary comic book writer and author Frank Miller’s series, Snyder’s movie brought the vivid, violent poetic panels to life making them into moving art as beautiful as it was brutal in telling the tale of the 300 Spartans at the Battle of Thermopylae.
The super-imposition chroma key technique which gave the film its distinctive hyper real look was copied many times afterwards especially by Snyder himself in his following movies Watchmen, Sucker Punch and Man of Steel none of which achieved the awesome impact of 300.
Added to this 300 was parodied and spoofed many times over as people crafted a million memes from Gerard Butler yelling “THIS IS SPARTA!” while the films very recognizable slow-mo battle sequences became a mainstay of any historical action movie hoping to cash in.
8 years after the original not only does the graphic novel have a follow up from Miller entitled Xerxes but 300: Rise of an Empire has emerged to carry on the fictitious retelling of the Persian Wars that started in 499 BC and raged between the fractious political world of the Greeks and the enormous empire of the Persians.
Telling a story that spans before, during and after 300 (meaning the title should probably have been 299 to 301) we follow the fate of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) who in killing Xerxes father at the Battle of Marathon provoked the newly crowned Persian king to devote his life and his armies to defeating the Greeks.
Desperate to unite the disparate states into a singular army to fight Persia, Themistocles finds himself without allies and only a tiny army in comparison to the legions of warriors that come at him lead by Xerxes most dangerous and destructive general Artemisia (Eva Green).
As battle after battle is fought on land and sea the fate of both civilizations hangs in the balance of blood shed with neither side willing to retreat or surrender till both great generals enter into the final fight that will leave one empire to rise while the other will be crushed into oblivion.
Although Snyder may not be at the helm of 300: Rise of an Empire he penned the script alongside Kurt Johnstad who also wrote the original both of them using Miller’s sequel as a basis. The story is spectacular filling in many gaps that 300 opened and fleshing out characters we craved to know more about including the God King Xerxes played by Rodrigo Santoro who returns to the role alongside Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo, David Wenham as Spartan Dilios and Andrew Tiernan as the traitorous hunchback Ephialtes.
The two new central characters of Themistocles and Artemisia are brilliantly realized by both the script and the performances with Stapleton’s angst as a leader in charge of the fate of his untrained men balanced by the seething fury of Green and her single-minded ambition to rule, making it a true battle of the sexes that explodes twice within the film first in a particularly fierce sex scene and latter in a fight to the death.
As mentioned the revolutionary look of 300 has become something of a mainstay in motion pictures sometimes working well as in Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez Sin City and other times not so well. Although the initial visual impact is lost in 300: Rise of an Empire there is the added element of 3D which is utilized extremely effectively by director Noam Murro.
The success of the effect is that so many scenes have added depth infused into them by elements in the air. Mists roll across the sea as the armies sail into battle, embers hover in the ether around the camp fires and blood flies in every direction when the warriors clash with frequent ferocity.
Blistering with blood drenched battles the visceral violence Rise of an Empire is just as gory and gorgeous as ever stylized to the extreme with amazing sets and awe inspiring set pieces all of which perfectly compliment not only the first film but Frank Miller’s vision.
An epic evolution of the original 300: Rise of an Empire expands the universe of characters and events created in 300 wonderfully, offering up a film that intricately and effectively intertwines with the first.
Its true achievement however is in making a 2D comic much more than 3D by infusing it with energy, humanity and powerful emotional impact that places you right where you want to be, in the heart of every blood soaked battle.