“300: Rise of an Empire” had all the warning signs of a cash grab sequel set up to disappoint; the original star missing, the name director stepping upstairs into the ill-defined “Executive Producer” position, and a dramatic push back in the original release date from last summer.
I am happy to report “300: Rise of an Empire” has bucked this trend in favor of another—movies (and books) with “Rise” in the title are always good; “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011), “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012), and now “Rise of Empire”.
This is a wildly entertaining, smashing sequel that takes the original film’s much praised stylized visual effects to the next level and delivers a crackerjack, action-packed sword and sandal/sword and sorcery story at the same time. It does it all without compromising. After a decade of suffering through movies that should have been rated R muted down into PG-13 blandness to capture the kiddie cash, it is wonderful to see a movie stay true to the material and deliver genre story with passion and guts. This is a movie with an edge as sharp as the blade of the swords it showcases.
Sullivan Stapleton may not have the name recognition of Gerard Butler, but the charismatic actor does a fine job of taking over as the alpha male and has the athletic body and rugged good looks that play well to the camera. The screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad (based on as-of-yet unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller) blends history, myth, and fantasy to perfection. But what truly makes “Rise” work, and elevates what could have been a routine sequel in memorable greatness, is the outstanding performance by Eva Green.
Eve Green made a spectacular debut by delivering a brave performance in acclaimed director Bernardo Bertolucci erotic drama “The Dreamers” (2003) and was the best Bond girl of the modern era in “Casino Royale” (2006). The statuesque actress owns every frame of “Rise” she is in and every time she is off screen the movie loses energy. Her smoldering presence must be seen to be believed. Not only is she the fiercest on screen action femme fatale we have seen in years, she possess a primal sexual charisma that is unmatched. Amid all of the violent swordplay and stylized beheadings, “Rise” contains the hottest sex scene seen in a mainstream genre movie in decades.
Bottom line, “300: Rise of an Empire” is a knockout, entertaining, action fantasy anchored by Patrick Tatopoulos’ gorgeous production design and a sensational performance by Eva Green.