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‘300’ sequel doesn’t ‘Rise’ to the occasion

Seven years ago, “300” took the world by storm. An action movie doing well in March? Oiled, muscled dudes wrecking other oiled, less-muscled dudes and it’s not a gay porno? Slo-mo, followed by fast-mo? There was a lot to take in. For better or for worse, it ended up essentially launching lead actor Gerard Butler and director Zack Snyder to superstar status. Given the original fi lm’s profi t margin, of course they’d want to make a sequel.

“300: Rise of an Empire” concerns the plight of Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian general who led the Greeks to victory at the battle of Marathon. Now that the invading Persians are back, he leads a small navy to battle Admiral Artemisia (Eva Green) and hopefully unite the city-states against their mutual, powerful enemy.

The biggest hurdle going into the movie is the shoes it has to fi ll, specifi cally for Sullivan Stapleton. It’s hard to beat Gerard Butler in terms of going over the top, but that haminess is kind of the point of these things. Unfortunately, Stapleton doesn’t deliver and the Persian king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) isn’t in it all that much, meaning the fi lm has a distinct lack of insanity that is desperately needed for something like this to work. Everyone gives more subdued performances, basically missing the point of the framing device (an exaggerated story told to rile up a bunch of badassess for war).

One way the fi lmmakers try to make up for the distinct lack of ham is by tossing in more story, some very simple politics and some sexual tension between Green and Stapleton’s characters. One thing the fi lmmakers may have forgotten is that no one really goes to see these things for plot or character devlopment, especially when they’re done half-assed. It’s kind of like a fi ghting game. Who cares if there’s a tournament or someone out for revenge or whatever? You just want to get to shoot fi reballs at people. The issue comes when the game doesn’t give you any new fi reballs to shoot at guys. What was I talking about? What remains stunning are the visuals. The fi rst 15 minutes or so are totally sweet and look like they came straight from the previous, superior movie. It’s basically the re-telling of Marathon and Xerxes’ origin story. That said, the battles afterward become tedious and bodies spray even more obvious CGI blood than before, which ends up going from ridiculous (“300”) to goofy (“Rise of an Empire”). Add in a sex scene that is directed like a battle, and the effects that were cool before become dated and selfparodying.

All other historical accuracy aside, Green’s leggings seriously bothered me. I mean, how many thousands of years would it be until the elastic needed for tights would be invented? I fully understand how bizarre it is that that is the problem that stands out to me, but there you have it. There are some cool little cameos and references to the breakout prequel, but “Rise of an Empire” falls short in pretty much every way. If you want more of the same, minus good acting but plus Eva Green topless, go right ahead.

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