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300: Rise of an Empire (2014)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 6/24/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 6/23/2014
2006's300 holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Warner Home Video release reviewed on this site. Despite this milestone, I really didn't care for the movie. I appreciated what Director Zack Snyder was doing with the visuals, but after hearing the hype around the film for months, I was disappointed with the overall story and effect of the movie. However, I was clearly in the minority on this, as the movie raked in over $200 million at the U.S. box office. Based on that, it's not surprising that 300 got a sequels. What is surprising is that it took eight years to arrive. And while I'm honored to continue my relationship with Warner, I once face a movie which may be style over substance with 300: Rise of an Empire.
As opposed to being a simple sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire plays as more of a companion piece to 300. In the first film, we saw King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his troops square off against the Persian invader Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). This new film opens before that event, showing how Athenian soldier Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed Xerxes father, King Darius (Igal Naor), at the battle of Marathon. This fueled Xerxes rage and turned him in a Man-God. As part of his plan to invade Greece, Xerxes recruits Artemisia (Eva Green) to lead his naval forces. Bracing for the invasion, Themistocles approaches Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) of Sparta for help, but she refuses. Themistocles then rallies the battleships of Athens to prepare for battle. While Artemisia assumes that her superior forces will win, she is unprepared for the cunning and planning of the Athenians.
Again, I was apparently in the minority when it came to 300, as the film did little for me, coming across as one long, glossy battle sequence. Thus, it's not surprising that my expectations were low going into this second film, and, to be honest, I hadn't read much about the plot. Assuming that it was a standard sequel, I was surprised that the movie is essentially a side-story which shows how other parts of Greece were dealing with the Persian invasion and, similarly, how Xerxes forces weren't simply attacking the beach at Thermopylae.
There have been many times when a sequel has been accused of simply being "more of the same" and that is certainly true of 300: Rise of an Empire. 300 Director Zack Snyder serves as Co-Writer and Producer here, but the movie looks exactly like the first one. The fact that Director Noam Murro's only previous credit was the 2008 dramedySmart People makes him seem like a very odd choice for this project, and one can't help but think that he was simply a hired gun who was told to keep Snyder's style in place while Snyder was off destroying the Superman mythos.
Now, to its credit, 300: Rise of an Empire actually comes across as more focused than 300, which got side-tracked with political debates, lesbian sex, and monsters. While the film was never advertised as a documentary, 300's insistence on involving the supernatural detracted from the story. The makers of 300: Rise of an Empire know that the audience is there for the gratuitous violence of the battle sequences and we are treated to plenty of it. As with the first film, the movie is chock full of scenes where scantily-clad groups of men fight in front of green-screens. (At what point in history did armor become a thing?)
However, this renewed focus makes the film feel the more shallow. We don't learn anything about the characters, and after two movies, I'm still not sure that i understand Xerxes' motivations (other than simply being a conqueror.) There's no doubt that the film looks great and that the visual effects and staging of the battle sequences are impressive, but after a while, these scenes blur together. Sullivan Stapleton is OK as the leading man, but he's not especially engaging, nor is Eva Green, who can't seem to decide how evil her character is. Those who loved the visuals of 300 should get a kick out of this (although, can we agree on the fact that CG blood is annoying?), but all others will find this repetitive and bland.
300: Rise of an Empire gives ramming speed a new meaning on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. As with the first film, this is a dark movie, with occasional of colors, which feel enhanced by visual effects, but the image is never overly dark. The level of detail is excellent, as we can see textures on objects. The depth is very good, even in this 2D version. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 6.0 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are excellent and really highlights sounds coming from off-screen. The surround sound effects are frequent and they show a nice amount of detail. There are a few moments where the audio moves smoothly from the front to the rear. The subwoofer effects really punctuate the action sequences.
The 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray Disc contains a smattering of extras. "3 Days in Hell" (7 minutes) is a discussion of how the stories in this film and in 300 parallel and intersect, including how actors from the first film come back for cameos. "Brutal Artistry" (9 minutes) examines the look of the film, specifically how it built upon the images from the first film. We see some concept art and there is a look at the visual effects. "A New Breed of Hero" (5 minutes) examines the Themistocles character and how he differs from King Leonidas. "Taking the Battle to Sea" (9 minutes) looks at how green screen was used to show the actors on "boats" and the effects used to create the fleets. "Real Leaders & Legends" (23 minutes) offers comments from real historians who pick out the actual historical points from the film. The fact two females have important roles in this action film is explored in "Women Warriors" (12 minutes), which offers comments from Green and Headey. "Savage Warships" (11 minutes) looks at the practical and visual effects used to depict the ships and how an attempt was made to make them historically accurate. "Becoming a Warrior" (5 minutes) takes us backstage to see the rigorous training which was involved to be in shape for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long