300: Rise of an Empire: Where Villains are Victims and Heroes are Boring

Well, at least the trailer made this movie seem kind of cool.

300: Rise of An Empire follows the story of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian warrior and politician. Before King Leonidas of Sparta marched to the Hot Gates, Themistocles fought in a war against the first Persian invasion, in which he killed King Darius (Yigal Naor), father to Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). In the wake of Xerxes’ misery, Greek-born Persian naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green), convinced him to become the God King and attack Greece, where he eventually defeated Leonidas and the 300. While the Battle of Thermopylae was going on, Themistocles gathered Athenian forces to meet Artemisia’s navy in the Aegean Sea, hoping that his actions, as well as those of King Leonidas, would unite all of Greece.

All right. Let’s just cut right to the chase here, guys. 300: Rise of An Empire, like most sequels, was an unnecessary sequel that didn’t live up to its predecessor (Shocking, I know). So, yeah, it sucked.

Where 300 had awesome and well-choreographed fight scenes, 300: Rise of An Empire had way too many ramping sequences and CGI boat fights (Seriously, why are we watching boats ram each other for 20 minutes?). Where 300 had emotional weight because we knew the characters were clearly outnumbered and would die defending their home, 300: Rise of An Empire didn’t even make us think for once that our “heroes” were truly in danger. Where 300 had campy dialogue that juxtaposed the blood-splattered fights, 300: Rise of An Empire had more speeches about freedom than Braveheart.

Basically, this movie lacks all of the charm of the first movie. And it doesn’t even try to be entertaining. To make matters worse, Sullivan Stapleton, who played Themistocles, is even blander than RoboCop’s Joel Kinnaman. Seeing Stapleton play an Athenian warrior/politician after watching the charismatic Gerard Butler as the Spartan warrior king in the original, it’s hard not to notice how lackluster this movie is.

Even more awful is the fact that we don’t even get to see the best part of the movie’s climatic battle between the Greek navies (of Argos, Athens, Sparta, etc.) fight together against the Persian navy because the movie just goddamn ends. You literally see two minutes of Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) and the Spartans coming to bail Themistocles out, teased with Gorgo’s surprising battle prowess, and then it’s ripped away from you by credits. Because this movie hates you.

But my biggest problem (which will probably come as no surprise) was Artemisia, the movie’s villain. Not because of Eva Green’s acting (although the writing didn’t help), but more because Frank Miller and the screenwriters decided to victimize an already badass character.

If you’ve ever read any history about Artemisia, you know she’s an interesting person. Despite being a woman, Xerxes trusted her with his entire navy, not because she tricked him into it, but because she was a cunning, loyal, and fearless badass with a knack for naval strategy. Not to mention, her loyalty to Persia is what convinced Xerxes to avenge his father’s death by invading Greece.

But she’s a woman, so she can’t just be good at what she does. She needs to have a reason. And since this is Frank Miller we’re talking about, the reason is usually rape-based vengeance. The movie takes time away from the main plot to tell Artemisia’s completely necessary story, which was so original (Read: sarcasm). Unsurprisingly, her family was murdered by Greeks, and she was raped by Greeks.

It’s only annoying because men never need rape-victim backstories in order to be good fighters. But women do because, apparently, women can’t be good at anything unless they overcome the adversity of rape. It’s unashamedly patronizing. And it keeps happening without a bat of an eye from anyone. If you don’t believe me, please see every female hero/villain in comic book or video game history ever.

You know what this did to Artemisia in the movie? It made you feel bad for her. Rather than letting her be a good villain—you know, a power-hungry asskicker out for blood who you love to hate and hate to love—it turned her into a victim. A goddamn victim. I’m sorry, but the only victim(s) this movie should have are the Greeks. You know, because THEY’RE BEING F***ING INVADED BY THE PERSIANS, AND THAT’S THE WHOLE POINT OF THE GODDAMN STORY.

Overall, 300: Rise of An Empire is not nearly as entertaining or badass as the first 300 movie. Whether that’s because the protagonist, Themistocles, is too vanilla, because there were too many boat-fighting scenes and not enough hole-kicking, or because the movie’s villain, Artemisia, had her awesomeness undermined by her own backstory, I don’t know. I’m going to go ahead and say it was all of it.

300: Rise of an Empire: C-

For my radio review of 300: Rise of an Empire on “Pat & JT in the Morning,” visit this link (starts around the 27:25 mark).

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