300: Rise of an Empire–Second-Hand Sequel

300_rise_of_an_empire_posterZack Snyder made a name for himself with his adaptation of Frank Miller’s Greek war epic graphic novel “300,” back in 2006, a commercial hit that displayed a star-making performance from Gerard Butler.

That film was extremely successful–some critics considered it an instant classic and a new take on an old genre.  So why did it take so long for a sequel?

Snyder’s touch is very much missed, now that the helming chores are handled by Noam Murro.

A vet director of commercials, Murro has made only one feature before, the 2008 “Smart People,” starring Dennis Quaid.  Snyder, who has stayed on as writer and producer of “Rise of an Empire,” must have supervised the production, though Murro is merely a craftsman, imitating the approach of his predecessor, largely to diminishing returns.

300_rise_of_an_empire_5I find it absurd to observe that even the original star is missed in this bloody picture, because Gerards Butler has made mostly bad movies (many of them, and in various genres), which is why he has never become a star—despite the requisite good looks and impressive figure.

Since the first film was visually striking in its innovative take on ancient history, it’s admittedly a tough act to follow because comparisons are inevitable.  There is also the problem of suitable heroes, as most of the characters of “300” are killed at the end of that picture.  Lacking a workable script, “300: Rise of an Empire,” sort of a sequel and prequel, unfolds as a series of unevenly executed action set-pieces.

300_rise_of_an_empire_6_stapletonThe tale is simple enough.  Decades before King Leonidas led his 300 Spartan warriors against the Persian army, the young Athenian warrior Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed the Persian King Darius, leaving his son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and the commander of his fleet Artemisia (Eva Green) seeking revenge.

300_rise_of_an_empire_1_greenYears later, as Xerxes’ forces take on Leonidas’ Spartans, Themistocles and Artemisia’s fleets clash on the open seas in the ongoing war between the empires.  The Athenians led by Sullivan Stapleton’s Themistocles step up to take on a much larger Persian fleet.

In this sequel, director Murro, relying too much on his stunt men and visual FX experts, has done a passable job in telling—or should I say orchestrating–a potentially powerful story that suffers from second (or third) tier material.

300_rise_of_an_empire_8_greenTo be on the safe side, the events that concluded “300” are related by the voice-over narration of Lena Headey’s Queen Gorgo.  The tale then cuts to a flashback depicting the earlier battle between Greece and Persia, which was then ruled by King Darius.

The variegated pacing of the action, in some instances speeding it whereas in other slowing it down, feels like déjà vu; the slow-motion has become an overused device of Hollywood spectacles.  As expected, the battles are brutal, violent, gory and excessive, as if made so to justify the picture’s rating.

The fans of “300” may like this second-hand sequel, which is sporadically entertaining, but I doubt whether the new movie would recruit fresh aficionados when Warner releases the picture wide on Friday, March 7.