Director: Noam Murro
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro, Hans Matheson, Jack O’Connell and Lena Headey
Running Time: 102 minutes
Release Date: March 7th
Frank Miller likes stories about men: bearded men, grizzled men, battle worn men, world weary men and men with one good last fight in them. It’s been the framework for a lot of his work and subsequent movie adaptations; substitute Gotham for Basin City or Sparta and the stories are not all that different. He’s never, however, been one for writing female characters. This is a man whose idea of feminism is Catwoman running an escort agency, every woman in Sin City either being a stripper or a prostitute and managed to make the entire female cast of The Spirit into man-crazy ditzes.
So, in 300: Rise of an Empire—a sequel/prequel/sidequel to Zack Synder’s 2006 slo-mo chest beater, and based on a comic Miller was working on—when we’re introduced to Artemisia, a take-no-shit, ruthless commander of the Persian naval fleet, it seems like things have changed. Played by Eva Green, whose performance necessitates a green-screen set because she was devouring all the scenery, she’s a whirlwind of Machiavellian decapitation until, when presented with an opportunity to crush her enemy, she disappointingly chooses a go of Poseidon’s Trident instead. Same old Frank.
Rise takes place before, during and after the events of 300, substituting sea for sand and Athenians for Spartans—they, the dwellers of the Hot Gates and prototypes for the NAMBA lifestyle. With a Persian invasion imminent, Themistocles gathers his best and most scantily clad to the oceans to meet them head on. Meanwhile, we bear witness to the genesis of King Xerxes who montages from a bearded underling wandering the desert like an LSD tweeker at The Burning Man festival to a giant, pencil eyebrowed, all-gold everything S&M manbaby.
In The Bourne Legacy, the plot suffered a lot because it ran parallel to a more interesting, and better cast, one. The same issues exist with Rise. Every mention of Leonidas and co. has you wanting to see Michael Fassbender charging around in his speedos. The action takes place primarily at sea and at night so the sun-scorched action scenes are lost too. (The 3D conversion and glasses don’t help trying to make out what’s going on either.) Its cast give it good welly, in particular Green who really deserves better. As Themistocles, Sullivan Stapleton is adequately hoarse and chiselled but remarkably bland, the next in line of forgettable-faced, muscled Australians who seem to be the go-to for actions flicks. (Looking at you, Sam Worthington and Jai Courtney!) Lena Headey returns but dreams of Westeros as Sparta crumbles around here.
The script is clumsy: the Athenians are portrayed as clever strategists yet use many of the Spartans’ techniques and, incredulously, all remove their helmets just as battle begins. The ugly America smashing the Middle East allegory of the original is just as uncomfortable here too, galvanised from a script by Kurt Johnstad—the writer of the madly jingoistic military recruitment drive that was Act of Valor. To add to it all, the director is, rather unfortunately, Israeli.
There’s an audience for Rise; if you’re fourteen, a fan of Sparacus: Blood and Sand or enjoy mild titillation—and let’s be honest, if you’re one, you’re all of them—this movie is yours and yours alone to love. For the rest it has its choice moments of action (when you can make it out) and daft dialogue (“You fuck harder than you fight”) but, Green aside, lacks any performances or set pieces that made the original guilty fun.