300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

10:44 AM

Don't let anyone give you flak for loving 300 (2006). It's badass as all hell and anyone who claims otherwise should seriously get some perspective. Anyways, I guarantee the haters are just harkening back to the days when every pre-pubescent boy was yelling "This is Sparta" unprovoked at anything that moved. Well, maybe their contempt is justified in that respect. Though besides remaining unmatched in aggressive one-liners, 300 stands as one of the less critically-acclaimed ventures in the steady stream of gritty graphic novel to film adaptations. And from early observation, the forecast for Rise of an Empire doesn't look much brighter. But to ones currently slandering the film whilst firmly straddled to a high horse, I have one thing to say...But guys, it's SO badass! Maybe I just have a thing for historical carnage but that kind of sadistic pleasure you get from blood, brawn and battle cries is just unfulfilled by anything other than this kind of film. 

This latest adaptation is based on Frank Miller's follow-up to 300, the story of (you guessed it) 300 Spartans who take on the army of the god-king Xerxes at the battle of Thermopylae, outnumbering our heroes 1000:1. While 300 focused solely on the perspective of King Leonidas and his band of spritely Spartans, Rise of an Empire takes place before, during and after the battle, with focus on Artemisia (Eva Green), the naval commander of Xerxes' fleets and Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), leader of the Athenians.  And as if we weren't getting enough bitchin' ferocity from Lena Headey on Game of Thrones, she returns to the 300 scene, now as the vengeful widow of King Leonidas. Even though Rise of an Empire isn't a true sequel, the battles in both films run parallel to one another, placing us on the decks of Persian and Athenian Greek ships instead of amongst the 300 Spartans standing shore-side. But Rise of an Empire makes you question why you were ever satisfied with being shore-side. Epic sea battles are where it's at, and Rise of an Empire certainly isn't short on those. 

And if unchecked ancient brutality isn't your thing, hopefully you might be able to appreciate Eva Green's seriously flawless  portrayal of Artemisia. As the Greek turned Persian ally on the warpath and calling for the obliteration of Greece, she's unwavering, hard as steel and ruthless, hacking effortlessly through the flesh of men like the warrior goddess that she is. If you need a lesson in how to write hard-core female action characters, look no further than this film because Eva Green nails it.  Unfortunately I can't sing the same praises for our main hero, who's so ordinary that I almost forgot I was supposed to be rooting for him. Although his name conjures British butler vibes, Sullivan Stapleton is actually our Athenian champion, Themistokles, a smouldering lead who proves that sometimes even born and bred Greeks aren't exempt from accidental slips into Aussie mode. His portrayal has no presence and commands no respect, or at least not on the same level as Gerard Butler did with King Leonidas in 300. But then, we don't need to look up to the blonde and bronzed army man, not when we have Queen Gorgo and Artemisia. They may be playing for different sides, and for different reasons, but their characters demand nothing short of the slowest of slow claps (the awe-struck slow clap...not the sad sarcastic one).  

I think my predisposition towards less-than-great bloodfests of the mythic/historical persuasion might be hindering my judgement on this one, but I can't help but love whatever comes from the 300 universe. If you're into badass chicks destroying all that's in their path, not because of some guy but to satisfy their own primal desires for power and love of country, you shouldn't pass up 300: Rise of an Empire. At the very least, you'll be like me and find the most prominent takeaway of all this might just be that Eva Green boob-envy is a very real and present affliction. 

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