It’s hard to label 300: Rise of an Empire as strictly a prequel or sequel (or even a sidequel), for it takes place both before, during and after the events of the first film. Here we follow the story of Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton. Only Australia could produce such a rough and seasoned-looking actor, which certainly helps in this role. Themistokles is a life long Athenian soldier and military leader whose sole purpose is to defend the freedom of Greece. That freedom is threatened by Xerxes, our favorite giant bald Persian God-king of the first movie, and his right-hand woman and naval commander Artemisia, played by the great Eva Green.
Both main villains get some welcome character development, though the film only really capitalizes on those efforts with Artemisia. Eva Green chews up the scene every time she is on screen. She obviously had some fun with this role and ends up being the best character of the film. Sullivan Stapleton had a very tough act to follow, given that Gerard Butler couldn’t return. Although Themistokles is a weaker character than Leonidas, he is quite likable and ends up feeling like his own person (not an easy task). The rivalry between Themistokles and Artemisia acts as a strong framework for the later half of the film.
If you were a fan of the stylized action and violence that so strongly distinguished its predecessor, you’ll find a lot to love here. Director Noam Murro, who has but one other credit to his name, successfully carries on the stylistic approach of the first film. Slow motion, gallons of thick CG blood, hundreds of chiseled half naked men, it’s all here. A lot of the action takes place at sea with fun and destructive naval battles. To put it plainly, the action is pretty awesome.
There are many successful elements of 300: Rise of an Empire, but ultimately it does not feel as substantial as 300. The events feel very peripheral, always described or depicted in their relation to the events of the first film. This makes it feel less mythic and epic. The shift in time and character perspective leads to a less focused experience. The side characters are very thin as well.
All in all, 300: Rise of an Empire proves to be a worthy follow-up and a fun ride. The action is just as epic and satisfying as it’s predecessor. The story isn’t as strong or focused, but it’s bolstered by good characters, especially Eva Green. Look no further to sate your bloodlust.