Has there ever been a blockbuster hit of which Hollywood hasn't thought of producing either a sequel or a reboot over the past couple of decades? More to the point: did we truly need a sequel to Zack Snyder's technically dazzling, ambiguously provocative Frank Miller adaptation 300? 300: Rise of an Empire is a positive reply to the former question, but a non-committal answer to the latter. Though Mr. Snyder is present as "show-runner", credited as co-writer and co-producer, directing duties have been passed on to Israeli adman Noam Murro and production has been handled by a bet-hedging "B team". And, though nominally based on Mr. Miller's own complementary but as yet unreleased graphic novel Xerxes, it's clear that Rise of an Empire should more accurately be called Artemisia.

     It's the richly villainous Persian naval commander, in a star-making performance by Eva Green, that both steals and anchors the film, designed as both a wraparound story that enlarges the political context of the original Battle of the Hot Gates, and as a sequel whose main thrust is the events that follow immediately the sacrifice of the Spartans. Rodrigo Santoro's flamboyant Xerxes, whose transformation into the androgynous god-king is here shown, is swiftly pushed aside from the tale; nominal hero Themistokles, the Athenian general whose fight against the invading Persians is the film's engine, is cut from the same mold as Gerard Butler's Leonidas in the original 300 but, despite Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton's fit in the role, much less charismatic. That Ms. Green ends up being the centre of the film underlines how much the actress understood what was required of her as Artemisia, and how much Rise of an Empire is beneath the balance of stern heroics and painterly artificial visuals of the original.

     Cinematographer Simon Duggan's murky palette and designer Patrick Tatopoulos' baroquely detailed digital sets aim at an epic, self-important grandeur, but Ms. Green's grandstanding, seductive performance as the vengeful, scorned Artemisia is more in tune with the classic Hollywood sword-and-sandal hokum than the fast-moving succession of combat set pieces. Her presence is just the right side of tongue-in-cheek, deflating the heroics to the point the film becomes a classic B movie bloated well beyond its modest nature - like a scrawny kid whose desire to bulk up may have been somewhat misjudged. It's an utterly disposable ride worth it exclusively for the stupendous presence of Ms. Green.

Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro
Director: Noam Murro
Screenwriters: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, from the graphic novel by Frank Miller, Xerxes
Cinematographer: Simon Duggan (colour, widescreen)
Music: Junkie XL
Designer: Patrick Tatopoulos
Costumes: Alexandra Byrne
Editors: Wyatt Smith, David Brenner
Visual effects: Richard Hollander, John Desjardin
Producers: Mark Canton, Gianni Nunnari, Mr. Snyder, Deborah Snyder, Bernie Grundmann (Warner Bros. Pictures, Legendary Pictures, Cruel and Unusual Films, Atmosphere Pictures, Hollywood Gang Productions)
USA, 2013, 102 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Colombo Imax, Lisbon, February 27th 2014


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