Film Review of the Week - 300: Rise of an Empire

A sequel of sorts to 2007's 300, a film based on a Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's, 300: Rise of An Empire, which opens areawide on Friday, is a retelling of the plot of its predecessor. The violence is harsher; the sex is rougher (and the bare breasts are even bigger). The scenes of hand-to-hand combat are more extreme and involve the severing of more limbs (the blood practically shoots right off the screen thanks to the 3-D effects). The speeches about freedom and honor are longer.

But just because the film has more of everything doesn't mean it's better than the original. The movie essentially picks up where 300 left off — with the death of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler). Actually, he's already dead, and in the film's opening scene. He appears lying face up with arrows protruding from his limp, bare-chested body. Tossed on a heap of Spartan bodies, he's easy prey for Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who takes a blade to the poor guy's neck.

A series of flashbacks follow and we learn a bit more of the backstory concerning the feud between Persia and Greece. We see Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) shoot the arrow that kills the old Persian king, sending his son Xerxes into a tailspin. But thanks to the strong-willed Artemisia (Eva Green) a cold-hearted warrior who spent some time as a Greek slave before breaking free and turning her resentment into full-blown revenge against the entire nation, he recovers and decides he's a god. To prove his case, he goes to war with Greece and intends to wipe them from the history books.

The film sets up a final battle between Xerxes/Artemisia and Themistocles and it's not giving away too much to say the movie's conclusion leaves more than a few loose ends. Not sure if there's yet another sequel/prequel in the works, but it would certainly seem like it.

You're likely to experience some serious déjà vu here. It feels like we've already seen this film. The movie recounts so much of 300's plot that it seems redundant. And not all of director Noam Murro's decisions here make sense. Queen Gorgo narrates the proceedings but doesn't figure much in the movie. While Lena Headey plays Gorgo with the same steely determination as she did in 300, her role here is diminished. Butler's absence is also notable. He was, after all, the original film's driving force. Some of the new characters aren't so compelling. Stapleton doesn't have the charisma to pull off his role as the Greek leader. And the same goes for Green, whose attempts to make her character into a seductress fall short.

Murro really nails the visuals and deserves credit for making it resemble a graphic novel – but a better script would have gone a long way in making 300: Rise of An Empire into a more satisfying companion piece.