Coming some eight years after the success of the theatrical adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, which proved to be the breakout picture for Director Zack Snyder, Rise of an Empire seeks to re-claim some of the epic glory with an even more camp and bloodthirsty feature than the first.
Sadly, the highest entertainment heights of its predecessor are no match for the dull direction of Noam Murro, who exhibits none of Snyder's visual flair and whose previously most well-known title, 2008's i>Smart People, was a box office implosion that was sucked into its self-made black hole.
Unfolding roughly parallel to the events of 300 from a different perspective, Rise of an Empire follows Athenian General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leading his army against skirmishes with the Persian Empire, led by King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).
Whilst launching an assault on the Spartans from the Aegean Sea, Naval commander Artemisia (Eva Green) attempts to use her feminine physique to convince Theristocles to defect from Sparta; when her advances are rejected, a more elaborate, more personal war begins, one which could cloud the judgment of both leaders in the high stakes battle for glory.
300 burst out of the ranks in 2006 to solid success while also permeating pop culture, including the film's iconic line, "This is Sparta!" Sadly, the sequel does little to leverage off the freshness of its predecessor, re-hashing much of the recognizable flourishes to diminishing returns, which themselves have been copied ad nauseam in the intervening years. All this leaves Rise of an Empire feeling rather stale. Even brandishing the wand of stereoscopic 3D has not helped, and, to be honest, it probably cheapens both the film and the format.
Despite small roles in films such as Gangster Squad and The Hunter, Australian newcomer Sullivan Stapleton takes pole position on the theatrical poster and while reasonably effective in the role, his lack of aggressive grunt leaves viewers pining for Gerard Butler's return.
Much more impressive is Eva Green who provides a manic edge to an otherwise uncompelling villain. Rodrigo Santoro returns in the eye-catching and interesting role of Xerxes, but his role has been significantly reduced and given essentially nothing to do, which is to the film's detriment.
The real fault of the film probably lies in the half-baked script, which was expected to be based off Frank Miller's unpublished graphic novel Xerxes but had to change course when Miller wouldn't put pen to paper. Coupled with this, Director Noam Murro provides little evidence of any of Snyder's visual acuity and seems out of his depth. Why Hollywood thinks giving $120 million plus to unproven directors is a great idea just leaves me scratching my head.
Whilst Rise of an Empire will probably make a profit, which in the eyes of many equals success, there is no altering the fact that the film is little more than pretty visuals in want of a meaty story. Simply transposing the same battles on the sea instead of the desert just doesn't cut the mustard, and fans undoubtedly deserve more.