RISE OF AN EMPIRE Is 'More of the Same' & 'Less of the Same' Simultaneously
Mar 17, 2014
Sometimes the best that can honestly be said about a motion picture is that it knew precisely what it wanted to deliver and, in the final sum, it did so. 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE falls into that category, and that’s what I find a bit of a shame about it: rather than take the time to experience it, I suspect regular folks will dismiss it as yet one more fanboy flick not worth their attention.
In their defense, I’ll admit that RISE doesn’t have the kind of compelling central performances that brought so much attention to its predecessor. While largely remembered for creating a visual palate rarely seen on the silver screen before, that film had at its heart a tough, emotional performance by relative newcomer Gerard Butler as well as a plethora of supporting Spartan counterparts (Dominic West, Michael Fassbender, David Wenham, etc.) who scored terrific mileage out of so many smaller scenes. By contrast, RISE is largely Spartan-lite – in the film’s chronology, much of the events depicted here take place whilst Leonidas and the other 299 soldiers are making their fatal, futile stand – and it isn’t until the film’s big finish that those who remain from Xerxes’ assault on their tiny nation show up to help decimate the Persian navy.
What RISE does offer up by way of performances is a less vocal more contained example of leadership: Themistocles (played by Sullivan Stapleton from the Cinemax/BBC co-production series STRIKE BACK) commands his tiny fleet of ships and, in the process, delivers several small defeats to the Persians. His speeches don’t have the testosterone-heavy bluster demanded of Leonidas’s bloodline, and those who serve under him aren’t the warriors trained since birth the nation of Sparta maintained. Different strokes for different folks.
Still, Sullivan is given a vastly more charismatic foe to wage war against: Artemisia (the always luscious Eva Green) is more than Themistocles equal in cunning and even carnally as she tries to seduce to man with not only riches but also her own athletic body. (It’s probably the scene RISE will most be remembered for as time passes.) As the leader of the Persian navy, she demands obedience of those who serve at her privilege, and she even demonstrates a willingness to mouth off to the Persian king if she thinks he deserves it.
Like the original, RISE dishes up a wealth of spectacle, trying to surpass the original’s lush inventiveness by going for scope in probably too many scenes. There’s something to be said for humility, and, where 300 placed a long of its cinematic faith in vignettes where a few good men boasted to one another about their preparedness to die for the cause, RISE seemed all-too-often committed to bloating the motion picture with visual excess. In many regards, it’s a complaint many critics voiced regarding George Lucas’s obvious preoccupation with making each of his STAR WARS prequels bigger, bigger, and bigger … when all everyone really wanted to know was what went wrong between two men (Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker). RISE could’ve benefitted from taking a few greater pauses to smell the roses instead of rushing headlong into the next big action sequence.
When all is said and done, I think the audience that truly enjoys RISE will mostly be made up of those who truly loved 300; the film is best served as a companion piece to that film, and, frankly, it doesn’t stand so well on its own as it does a derivative of its ancestor. That’s not a bad place to be; it’s just that it could’ve been a better one.
RECOMMENDED. 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE is curiously ‘more of the same’ as it is ‘less of the same’ at the same time. Visually epic, but methinks it could’ve used a bit more calm in between its storms in order to have produced greater effect.