I need to write roughly 500 words for every review.
If written well, the review combines a tidy synopsis of a film and my feelings on the execution of said film. There are times when I — and all writers — find themselves struggling to fill those word requirements with excruciatingly banal verbiage in the hope that my editor will not call me out on having nothing productive to say. As I said, all writers do it.
Apparently, so do filmmakers.
It's called going through the motions, which is something that "300: Rise of an Empire" haltingly tries and fails to accomplish. "Rise," directed by Noam Murro, is less sequel or prequel and more of a lateral. Its action takes place alongside the events of the first "300."
While this wouldn't be a defect in the story in capable hands, the implementation feels horrifyingly contrived. Themistokles, Athenian hero and main protagonist competently played by Sullivan Stapleton, is set on unifying Greece to fight the unbeatable Persian army.
Since Xerxes, played again by Rodrigo Santoro, is marshalling his forces against Sparta, the duty of crushing the rest of Greece conveniently falls upon Artemisia, sex-slave turned un-paralleled swordswoman and naval general. A sullen portrayal by Eva Green makes Artemisia seem more emo-gothic than a leader of an army.
Lena Heady, "Game of Thrones," "300," regretfully reprises her role as Queen Gorgo, who refuses Themistokles' request for aid from the Spartan navy but is later spurred on by a desire to avenge the death of her husband and King. Her acting outmatches the writing.
David Wenham picked up a paycheck again playing Dilios. This isn't a jab at his acting. I believe he did the best he could with a role that was there for no other reason than to show the audience, "See, we have actors from the first movie in this one." The rest of the actors do as good of a job of green screen acting as one can hope.
Like the Persian army to the Spartan forces in the first "300," the screenplay, co-written by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, crushes the actors' efforts. Any movie that begins with what seems to be a 30-minute voice over, as this one did, is a testament to failed storytelling. The best-developed back stories are for Xerxes and Artemisia. Yes, it gives us insight as to why these two hate the Greeks just so much, but at the expense of leaving the protagonists woefully underwritten.
There's a father and son storyline that was stapled on and falls flat out the gate. Near the end, when a soldier berates Themistokles for his hubris, there is no emotional impact because it is the first time the character really speaks. Even the final camaraderie-invoking speech between our hero and his staunch companion, Aesyklos (Hans Matheson) feels like wasted words lost in the cold Aegean wind.
Cinematically, this movie feels more like violence porn. Doing its best to copy and outdo the first movie, we get even more slow motion, even more fake blood and even more inconsistent visual imagery. Embers from campfires drift lazily by actors mouthing words without a hint of breeze in their hair.
The world of "Rise of an Empire" is perpetual dawn or twilight to hide the horrendous special effects. The sound is competent and the music doesn't distract from the visuals.
I could literally go on and on about how bad this movie was. For example, it probably has one of the worst sex scenes in movie history. Artemisia and Themistokles go at it hand to hand, trying to screw each other to death.
Then there is how Artemisia, who was a sex-slave for five-some years, laments on the deck of her ship in front of her men about not being able to find a man she can count on.
To be honest, I would go on, but I've finished my required word count, and in doing so, fulfilled my responsibility to my editor.