In one of the many, many ominous warnings delved out in Rise, Ephialtes, the deformed hunchback who betrayed Leonidas in the first film, warns “There will be death and destruction” – which, it turns out, was putting it lightly. 300 was not exactly known for its subtlety, but this long-awaited sequel ramps the whole thing up several notches to deliver a tidal wave of bronzed abs, CGI blood splatter, and gloriously camp double entendres like “Seize your glory”. What’s more, everyone involved seems to be immensely proud of it.
Rise may well be the first of its kind: a prequel, sidequel and sequel all rolled into one conspicuously overstuffed Spartan codpiece. Set before, during and after Leonidas’s last stand at the Hot Gates, this sees Themistocles (Stapleton, whose accent I’m still struggling to place) leading a maritime siege against the terrifying Artemisia (Eva Green) and her prodigious naval forces. Naturally, this offers plenty of scope for sea-faring carnage and rousing speeches, such as “We chose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees,” that don’t quite live up to Gerard Butler’s “This is Sparta!” rallying cry.
Clearly, there was a desire to increase the scale of this sequel, but it may have been to its detriment. The focused narrative of 300 gave credence to the Spartan’s underdog status, but by turning things up to eleven the Greek forces can no longer be considered as such. Combine this with a loss of the mythical resonance that made the original 300 seem super-human and all that’s left is a bunch of over-pumped, over-tanned men in silly costumes spouting nonsense about fighting for honour, glory and vengeance.
There’s a lack of invention in the direction, too. Noam Murro basically acts as a Zack Snyder substitute, diligently delivering the speed-ramped gore-fest that fan’s are baying for but without the vim and vigour of the original. Often this technique is used at the wrong moment: we don’t really need to see a horse neigh in slow motion.
Perhaps this is a much of a muchness, as Rise ultimately delivers exactly what its audience has come to see: unctuous Greeks in tight leather hot-pants, wielding swords and spears like giant metallic penis enhancers, decapitating Persians with a satisfying spew of blood, and just generally being all manly.
Yet, it’s Eva Green who manages to emerge from this whirl-pool of sweaty testosterone to own the film. A sultry dominatrix who enjoys a pre-battle peace negotiation/shag-fight and making-out with recently decapitated heads, Green’s Artemisia is utterly believable as a female warrior and leader of men, not to mention being completely terrifying without ever straying into male-villain parody.
Strangely, man-turned-god Xerxes (Santoro) is largely absent from proceedings, despite time being taken to flesh-out (literally) his back-story. His role is limited to standing on the side-lines like a gold, homoerotic Christmas tree. Most probably his story is being saved for a follow-up, as the obviously sequel-bating ending would suggest.
While it remains to be seen if the Greek warriors will be given another run-out, Rise is a visual feast if little else, offering up campy action and cheesy dialogue with absolutely no shame. It’s Carry On Sparta and it’s a lot of fun.
Runtime: 102 minutes Genre: Action/Epic Released: Mach 7, 2014
Director: Noam Murro Writers: Zack Snyder (screenplay), Frank Miller (Graphic novel)
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro
Click here to watch the trailer for 300: Rise of an Empire