300: Rise of an Empire: The Paralellopresequel to end all Parallelopresequels

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-HD-PosterTHERE are three primary differences between 300: Rise of an Empire and its Gerard Butler-led predecessor 300. First: No Gerard Butler. Second: An emphasis on the colour blue over the colour red. Third: Eva Green. Otherwise it’s business as usual for Greeks with abs of plate-steel bellowing out war cries and slicing limbs off in slick slow-motion, except this time it’s in 3D(!) so the CGI blood spatter is coming right at you!

Disingenuity aside, there’s surprisingly a lot to like about this chronologically abortive follow-up. Where actors’ charisma is lacking, the fluidly-choreographed action sequences deliver in spades. Where characterisation is limp, Eva Green swaggers onscreen to dispense smoulder and coal-eyed fury. Where plot and script may as well be mute, the spectacular visuals speak louder than a thousand tired war cries.

Director Noam Murro, whose only prior film experience was Smart People, a comedy-drama, channels the visual style of 300’s Zack Snyder (onboard here as producer and writer) to a tee. Had one wandered into the cinema with no knowledge of directing credits, one might think Snyder had returned to the reins for another blast of meaty brawn. The washed out browns and burning sun of Sparta and Persia make a brief appearance but otherwise it’s the lash of the pelting rain and the thrashing sea that dominate. The effect is striking if a little muddied at times, particularly with the additional murk-ifier of 3D on top. Though not exactly innovative, the visual style emulates the original’s flawlessly, creating a visual bridge between the two when the narrative fails to.

The main thing to establish about the plot is how little there is. The ten-minute exposition regurgitation in the opening demonstrates that Xerxes once had a beard and then he became made of gold and began to believe in his soul. Eva Green’s scenery-chewing Artemisia fortunately had the power to know that Xerxes was now indestructible (always believe it) as the God-King; then 300 starts happening off (and sometimes on) screen and Rise of an Empire picks things up at the Battle of Salamis. Athens, lead by Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles, mounts a desperate final stand against Artemesia’s overwhelming naval force. So, yeah, it’s 300 on boats.

Themistocles is our Leonidas stand-in in Mr. Butler’s absence. Stapleton is given far less meaty dialogue to chew and so founders amongst a sea of yawnsome “FREEDOM!” aphorisms. Whereas Butler was able to elevate brainless machismo to a growling art form, Stapleton can only grunt and stare broodingly into the distance. The rest of his Athenian troupe follow suit, so much so that I don’t even remember their names.

Thank God for Eva Green then. She is a maelstrom of crazy fury, a black-clad she-devil acting her heart out and she is loving it. The scenes between Green and Stapleton, the highlight of which I can only describe in stunned silence, bristle with such ferocious chemistry that you start to fear the screen exploding in the wake of it. When Artemesia is onscreen the film bursts into life; when she is off it, her absence is felt in plodding exposition and navel-gazing.

Rise of an Empire doesn’t quite capture the same mythical campness (that is a thing) of its predecessor, despite the ab-to-plot ratio being largely similar. Its true worth comes as a companion piece to the original; if you’re in the mood for some shouty Greek men hurling spears, a double bill of 300 and its parallel-/se-/pre-quel wouldn’t be remiss.