The first 300, Zack Snyder’s faithful adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, was a new kind of swords and sandals film: an over the top retelling of the historical battle of Thermopylae containing buckets of blood, hyperstylized slow motion fight scenes and beautiful computer-generated surroundings. It captured the thrill and brutality of battle, the adrenaline, and was a visual assault on the senses. The story itself, about Leonidas and his brave 300 who took on the Persian army, was a compelling one, an underdog story that ended with the death of these Spartans, a sacrifice which led a divided Greece to unite and beat the Persians at their door. This is the focus of this sequel. 300: Rise Of An Empire tells you exactly what happened in Athens before, during and after Leonidas’ actions, creating not only an effective companion piece to the first film, but a movie that surpasses Zack Snyder’s original.
While 300 presented viewers with characters to root for, the Spartans weren’t exactly the most relatable or likeable bunch: tough men who mainly dedicated their entire lives to battle, with death on the battlefield as the ultimate honor and ideal way to go. Leonidas was a fantastic main character, a strong-willed soldier who would never back down, but as a result the story was a bit one-note and isolated. Rise Of An Empire takes a different approach: it circles around the events of the first film, through the brilliant strategist Themistocles, a man who in many ways is the polar opposite of Leonidas: instead of brute force on land he employs smart tactics at sea. He’s also much more layered: he’s burdened with leading the battle and the losses he endures in a way Leonidas never was. Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles is a warmer and more human character, capable of grief, hope and regret. Rise Of An Empire also scales back its cast of prominent characters, which makes for better defined interactions, relationships and rivalries. Eva Green’s impressive antagonist, the Persian’s naval commander Artimisia, helps raise the stakes: she’s vicious, vile, but her backstory so effective it’s hard not to empathize with her to a certain degree.
Surprisingly Rise Of An Empire doesn’t resort to its predecessor’s bag of tricks all the time: Zack Snyder combined slow motion and fast forward to create a characteristic rhythm in 300‘s battle scenes. And while it’s still present at times, Rise Of An Empire‘s director Noam Murro is more concerned with having the cameras elegantly track the soldiers in battle and pulling back to show the viewer the chaos these men are involved in to jump back into the fray a moment later. It fits the property perfectly and is close to the first film stylistically, but finds its own identity, much like Murro puts a unique spin on everything that worked well in the first movie. It’s a great example of how one can approach making a follow-up to a successful film: taking what worked but expanding on it to offer viewers something fresh and different without losing a franchise’s identity.
300: Rise Of An Empire surpasses the first 300. Its firmer emotional core and expanded world make the stunning action even more effective than it was the first time around. 8/10