Writer-Producer Zack Snyder has done it again! Proving that the sophomore slump doesn’t have to happen to all franchises, “300: Rise of an Empire” is a stellar film. It’s not because of the awesome fight sequences, sharp visuals, and body parts being chopped off for shock value but because it understands what so many other films don’t. Sequels should simply expand the original world with great storytelling.
The film entertains our sense of time by showing what was going on in Greece prior to King Leonidus (Gerard Butler) making a stand with his 300 men at the hot gates, during and after making it a prequel/sequel hybrid. True to ancient Greek tradition, the story is set up with storytelling (word of mouth) of the highest quality. We get backstory of all the key players. Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) starts off telling the story of Thermistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), a warrior from Athens who, among leading Greece to a victory, also made a costly mistake in killing King Darius and leaving his son alive.
The story then flows into the backstory of the young boy who lost his father at the hand of Thermistocles. Xerxes journey from young punk to god king is succinct and entertaining. The story of Artemisa is even tougher. Sexually abused at the hands of her fellow Greeks and left for dead, the emissary who was kicked down the well in the infamous “This is Sparta!” scene, finds her and takes her in. He raises her as a Persian warrior and what a heartless, incredibly skilled warrior she is.
With all back stories told, the film pushes forward as Thermistocles and Artemisia go back and forth in a battle of military wit. Where “300” was a battle on land, this film’s battles take place at sea. Although the odds are against Thermistocles and his army, they get the job done losing friends along the way until the final showdown between Thermistocles and Artemisa.
The key to the “300” franchise is that at the end of the day it’s about life and death. Choosing to live your life how you want to or having your way of life forced upon you is a universal theme. With that simple premise in tact, stacking on eye candy visuals and bloody action scenes is icing on the cake. The film ends with an opening for a third installment, and I can’t wait for it!