‘300: Rise of an Empire’ Is a Boring, Jingoistic Mess
Freedom isn’t free, but this movie should have been
I really like 300. The first one, that is. The 2007 comic book adaptation launched director Zack Snyder’s career and sliced and stabbed its way into our hearts.
It’s a loud, stupid, brutally violent movie with inspiring speeches, quotable dialogue and loads of bloody warfare. Exposition is sparse but the violence isn’t. Above all, it was fun.
The sequel 300: Rise of an Empire is not fun.
Seven years after the original, the studio lords at Warner Bros. Pictures dump this crass and terrible film on our laps. Gone is the frenzied kinetic energy of the first. Gone is Gerard Butler’s wild eyes and mad smile. Gone is the joy.
300: Rise of an Empire is the story of Themistocles, an Athenian beefcake who loves democracy and fights a naval battle against the Persian Empire, concurrent to the events of the first film. Sullivan Stapleton plays Themistocles with the weight and charm of buttered toast.
Butler’s Leonidas in 300 makes audiences believe in Spartan superiority. By contrast, Stapleton’s Themistocles sort of wanders through 300: Rise of an Empire wearing a vague expression of confusion and sadness, as if he’s not really sure how he ended up in this piece of shit film.
Eva Green plays the antagonist, Athenian-born Persian naval commander Artemisia. Of all the cast, Green seems be having the most fun. While Sullivan looks depressed and Lena Headey—reprising the role of Spartan queen Gorgo—is clearly bored, Green embraces the camp and vamps her way through badly-staged battles and frightening sex scenes.
The combat centers on a naval campaign. It’s hard to portray naval warfare on screen and 300: Rise of an Empire doesn’t rise to the challenge.
So instead of the urgent and frenzied ground battles of the original film, we get long periods of waiting for ships to collide.
There are no war-rhinos, alchemists, Immortals or giants. No, the sequel mostly follows generic, turban-wearing Persians rushing to die fruitlessly in battle with the dude-bros.
I don’t normally quibble over the finer points of history in a movie meant to entertain. But when the movie fails to do even that, when it draws out its two-hour length with endless exposition, pointless voice-overs and uninspiring speeches hoping to illicit vague feelings of patriotism, then I feel justified in pointing out some hypocrisies.
Slavery and freedom. These two words get bandied about in 300: Rise of an Empire so much that I sometimes felt like Sullivan’s Themistocles wrote all of former president George W. Bush’s speeches.
The Persian—more accurately, the Achaemenid—Empire kept only a few slaves, most of them rebels and debtors. Often, they were paid or otherwise compensated for their labor.
Athenians, however, were notorious slavers.
Historians argue about the numbers, but conservative estimates place the ratio at one slave for every free Athenian. Many of those slaves worked in brutal conditions in the Athenian silver mine at Laurium.
If you see this movie—and I don’t recommend that you do—remember this when Themistocles stares into the middle distance and tells his compatriots that Persia attacked Greece because it hates Greece’s freedom.