Everyone knows why a sequel to 300 was made—it made monies and had lots of blood and swords in it and sequels are all we do now. Blood and swords can be fun; I made a trip to the first film to get a dose of exactly that. That doesn’t mean that a sequel is necessarily a good idea, though.
It wasn’t really, by the way. Unless you can tune out every time Eva Green is not delightfully gnashing her teeth at someone.
Minor spoilers for 300: Rise of an Empire.
I should begin by saying that I did not expect to come down quite so harshly on this movie as I am. The first film caught me off-guard eight years back, and I ended up enjoying it mostly because I assumed it was fine to laugh my way through. (The audience watching along with me could not figure out why I was so amused.) I’d been watching a whole lot of romantic comedies at the time, and was really glad for a change-up. Taking a deeper gaze at the film was not really an option.
Later on, when I thought back on what I’d seen, it suddenly registered in an anvil-like smack that every “evil” person in the film was horrifically othered in as unapologetic a manner as possible. I knew less about Frank Miller at the time, so I hadn’t really known what I was jumping into. To put it lightly, I have a much harder time with it these days. All the same, if you’re in the mood for something comically overblown and know not to internalize any part of it, 300 is at least fun as an action piece, filmed as though as a comic book really has leapt off the page.
It’s sequel is a very different beast, despite all intentions to the contrary.
What I did not realize going in was that Rise of an Empire is meant to take place relatively side by side with the first film. Turns out Leonidas’ troops were not going to be of much use to Greece if no one could hold off the Persians by sea. That is Themistokles’ job. He is the Main Dude of 300: the Two-ening, and he tries to get Leonidas’ wife, Queen Gorgo (that’s Lena Headey, Game of Thrones fans) to help him rally other Greek peoples in the fight. She’s less than interested, so he has to go solo. By solo, I mean ‘helped by a ragged band.’ You know the drill.
Since evil Xerxes has achieved god-king status for his victory—he is super metallic and even more ripped than the last time... I don’t think I can discuss that aspect of the movie without a laugh track playing in the background—his stand-in for the prize fight is Eva Green. She’s sort of his sister? It doesn’t really matter? The cool part is watching her maim and murder while making broad declarations about her awesomeness and plans to conquer. This is literally the only reason to go see the movie.
I’m not quite sure what they were hoping for in Themistokles, but he’s not really a good follow-up act for Gerard Butler. He’s got muscles aplenty, but lacks Butler’s unexplainable presence amidst the carnage. He does make lots of speeches. In those moments, the movie feels a lot more like an Immortals remix, but then lacks Tarsem’s visual genius to make anything of it, even with its by-the-numbers plot and vacant dialogue.
It’s still utterly perplexing that a continuation to the story exists, no matter whose pockets are getting lined. By that token, it retroactively makes 300 less interesting (if it was ever truly interesting to begin with). It’s white noise on top of white noise. The action sequences don’t even stack up this time around, though I suppose we can attribute that to Zack Snyder’s directing absence. Say what anyone wants about the guy, he does know how to frame giant, gruesome battles. The film feels oddly generic in a way that its predecessor managed to largely avoid. It’s hard to even summon the energy to make snarky sideswipes at it.
Blah, blah, airbrush abs, blah, slow motion porn, blah-dee-blah, beheading fun for the family?
When all is said and done, I’m shocked that no one realized the easiest route to legitimizing this film—making Queen Gorgo the other primary combatant. I was honestly hoping for a gargantuan showdown between Vesper Lynd and Cersei Lannister, and I’m still pretty pissed off that I didn’t get one. Just take a moment to imagine that film. That glorious movie that never was. Ridiculous 300 sequel starring two powerhouse ladies who overshadow the first film in its entirety. I could forgive them.... maybe half their errors in judgment otherwise.
Well...I could forgive them maybe a tenth of their errors in judgment otherwise.