300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
Sieze your glory
I don't normally review movies that are fresh in the theaters, because I find it a less than optimal experience as far as the movie goes. Don't misunderstand, it's great to sit in a theater with the awesome surround sound and big old screen with a bunch of friends, but it becomes hard to concentrate on the movie itself at times when there's a bunch of people screaming over what they thought was scary or hollering over something they thought was great. Let's not forget those pesky kids who always manage to talk through forty percent of the movie roll... Forget that though, I saw this one and figured It'd make a nice change of pace for me to tell you if this guy rose to the top or feel with brave Leonidas and his 300.
It might surprise some, but there is more to the story than just Leonidas and his 300 Spartans who bravely tried and hold the Hot Gates against Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his seemingly infinite numbers of freaks and magicks. Rise fills in these other moments - both telling us how the tale got started, and also what happens after the end of the original 300. Much of the narration is done by Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), but the main character is actually Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), Beyond these two, we are also power-played with the character of Artemisia (Eva Green), one of the enemy admirals and Xerxes right-hand essentially.
Our start directly lays down the path of Xerxes anger towards Greece, as a younger and cunning Themistokles attacks a Persian landing party before they've had time to settle in, much less prepare. During a lull in the battle, Themistokles does the unthinkable and (using a procured bow from a slain opponent) lands an arrow in the then-king of the Persian forces (Xerxes' father) while he's still aboard his boat. The Persians beat a hasty retreat, and Xerxes is quite the mess for a few days, until the clever and silver-tongued Artemisia convinces him that his father's dying words weren't a warning but a prophecy, one that foretells him being more than just a king - a God-king. Some fancy talk later, and he's reborn as Xerxes as we know him from 300. Artemisia herself has a backstory laid down a bit later on, having her family raped and murdered by Greek hoplites, being held in a slave boat for many a year, until finally (after being discarded half dead on a street) she is saved by a passing Persian emissary. From there, she is trained by the best of the best, until she becomes unmatched in her martial prowess and quickly raises to the king's right hand.
When we cut back to current time in the story, We get the quest of Themistokles trying to hold off the entire Persian naval forces with just a small handful of Athenian boats and men - very similar to the predicament Leonidas finds himself in, just with boats and water tactics. There is a bit at the start of this where Themistokles tries to acquire aid from the Spartans, but as one could imagine the Spartans would rather have nothing to do with them and their "democracy." A handful of these Athenians stand out as "named characters," much like in 300, and overall the story pacing itself seem very similarly paced as well - although certainly a bit more advanced than that of the original, as this time around we explain the breadth of the events going on and just how destructive metaphorical ripples in the water can grow to be.
This is a 300 movie though, so I doubt most of you want to see it because of it's plot. No, you probably fall into a few different boats yourself - those who want to see those ungodly ripped men, those who want action, and those of you who are curious as to how the heck they could have made a sequel to 300. For the first group, rest assured that the actors are all quite fit, still have that same swagger and shine about them, and now include another lady who has some downright awesome outfits (I particularly enjoy the metallic spiked spine of one, regardless of how impractical it might be).
As for the action crowd, if you enjoyed the first you will without a doubt in my mind enjoy the second. Slow mo still pops up spattered across fights and killings, witty lines are exchanged (although not nearly as memorable as most of Leonidas' lines in the movie previous), and the choreography of the fights can be exciting on a multitude of levels. Beautiful as it is brutal, the only complaint I find myself lodging is the same as that against the first - CG blood is used all over the place, again. Yeah, you're thinking to yourself "whatever dude, you just want to complain," and I assure you that isn't the case. The blood being fake is much more noticeable this time, to the extent that even others were noticing it this time around - it's not game breaking, and by no means is it the amount of blood I'm lodging a complaint against, merely the fact that it looks so fake in quality. I understand it's probably much easier to do it that way, but I would have loved to see how it would have panned out with something more like squibs or practical fake blood. Of course, the blood isn't the only CG element, and I wouldn't be surprised if eighty percent of the flick was greenscreen work with only a handful of actors at any given time - but it's still well done and matches the style that they had created when they made the first.
Acting is done to an extent that is well enough it's enjoyable. The major plays come off on only three or four characters of course, as the rest you get the feeling are more just fodder for the fight. Some of the sets during action make for a thrilling encounter, yet there aren't as many stand out moments as the first - quite possibly due to being a more well rounded experience than it's predecessor. No one fight stands out as far above the rest, because every fight holds to an equal level of being cool and entertaining. Slo mo exists and is used well and similarly to before, cutting in and out of normal speed during battles for added effect and to give you time to really soak in the brutal violence going on onscreen - of course, this only heightens the CG part of the blood, even though the scenes themselves are still quite entertaining. Characters feel about as shallow as their role presents, with the two main aggressors both wanting vengeance, and the main hero bearing the weight of his command but keeping on going because it's what must be done to keep Greece free.
So what's it come down to? If you like 300, then you will like this one - it's pretty much the same movie on the sea instead of land. It has more story worked, but in turn also has a few less memorable lines and moments. As an action movie, it's a great testosterone fest during the battles which still take the largest chunk of the movie. There is also more variety in costumes in this one, thanks to the character Artemisia, and a larger helmet and shield variety out of the Athenian boys of Greece. I can't tell you about 3D in this one, as I saw it in normal format (I'm not about to spend that much more to see something that I normally can't tell much of a difference from normal anyways). There you have it though - if you want action, or you want another 300, then go see it - otherwise maybe you should just wait to rent it later on.