It's hard to believe but the original 300 came out eight years ago! Seems just yesterday that the movie that made me both hate my body and question my sexuality ("300 is how gay it was on a scale of 1 to 10" - Sarah Silverman...still kills me) hit the theaters and became the highest grossing March movie release in history and proof that films released in winter can make hundreds of millions of dollars. It introduced us to a style of filmmaking that we'd never seen before and made us all wish we were of Spartan heritage (my wife actually is...I'm jealous). It really was an awesome movie in the way that geeks can enjoy something. Hoping to capture lightening in a bottle, Hollywood creates an unnecessary sequel and almost destroys all that the first one established.
If you're like me, you'll wonder how a movie where (SPOILER ALERT) everyone but one person dies at the end can have a sequel. Well, in what is the only creative aspect of the film, it is both a prequel and a sequel. I love movies that do this. Rise of an Empire shows us what happened before, after and even during the events in 300 but from the perspective of a character named Themistokles, yes the one (if you know your Greek history) from Marathon, played by Sullivan Stapleton (Animal Kingdom, Gangster Squad). He tries to stop the Persian invasion from taking over Greece and wages his war on the water.
This choice to have the narrative jump in time becomes one of the areas where the film falls apart. It's hard to keep track of when certain scenes are taking place since it skips around in flashbacks and flash-forwards. This, however, is the least of its problems. The real issue comes from random newcomer Noam Murro taking over the directing since 300's Zach Snyder is still way too big to be bogged down with a sequel as silly as this. Sadly for Murro, we have no idea what he's capable of since the studio clearly told him that Rise of an Empire will look and feel like Snyder's vision of 300 in every single way. What sucks about this is that no matter how much you loved the look of 300, Rise of an Empire feels tired and played out showing you scene after scene after scene of everything you've seen before.
This is a real shame because so many people worked on such an FX-heavy film that any frame can be paused and it looks like a painting. But when someone shows up to a sequel, they expect to see something new since they could've saved the ten bucks and watched 300 again if they just wanted the same thing. The violence, the sex, the scantily-clad men with 8% body fat are all rehashed in sequences that don't blow you away anymore but instead make you exhausted.
The real shame is that the incredibly sexy Eva Green (Dark Shadows, Casino Royale) gives a wonderful performance as the ridiculously sadistic villain. She's over-the-top in every way but it works in a film that's already set in a hyper-reality. It's also fun to see a woman given the chance to show that girls can play baddies just as well as boys but her character is so superficially written that her wings are clipped in what could've been a more entertaining element of the film. Positively speaking, the one thing Rise of an Empire did well was make you want to watch 300 again.