When I first saw 300 it absolutely blew me away. I was about 19 years old when it came out so perhaps I was a bit impressionable, but I can remember leaving that theater wanting to go to war with Persians. It came as no surprise when I heard that they were developing a sequel but there was just one small problem… NO LEONIDAS! Gerard Butler will forever be remembered for his role as the Spartan King, and his performance was arguably the best ever in the entire sword & sandal genre. Well, I hate to say it but his presence is greatly missed in this sequel, and without him it is no better than the average fantasy film.
Although this is pitched as a sequel to the original 300, much of the story coincides with the first film. We get a quick back-story to the Athens side of the house from the perspective of Greek General Themistokles. Xerxes father Darius once launched a campaign against the Greeks and was killed by an arrow from none other than Themistokles himself. The Persians retreat and Darius dies leaving his kingdom to his son Xerxes. This is where we get to meet the Persian commander Artemisia, who encourages Xerxes to become a “God King” and avenge his father. The Persians sail to war and Artemisia leads the Persian Navy. On the other side of the house Themistokles attempts to broker an alliance between Sparta and Athens. The Spartans deny Themistokles and have no desire for a united Greece. So it’s up to Themistokles and his rag-tag Navy to stop the Persian Fleet.
While the story has a good concept, there were too many reoccurring themes in the sequel to offer anything new to the story. Several themes are repeated here and none of them improve on the originals. We have the standard “son on the cusp of manhood who wants nothing more than to prove to his father that he can handle war” story, the “humble group of men who are outnumbered ten to one” theme, and Artemisia’s back-story is your standard, “taken in by the supposed enemy who trains her in the ways of war to become a prodigy.” To top it off there are multiple “war speeches” that unfortunately pack little to no punch.
Look, I appreciate a good pre-war speech like anyone else. It gets you pumped, and it lets you know that there is a lot at stake here, so look within and find your courage! Leonidas in 300, William Wallace in Braveheart, Aragorn in The Return of the King, the list goes on and on. The speeches in 300 Rise of an Empire do nothing to get the audience rooting for the underdogs. The one-liners from the original 300 are sorely missed here, and leaving the theater I couldn’t recall a single one. “Tonight we dine in Hell!” “This is SPARTA!” “Their arrows will blot out the sun! Then we shall fight in the shade!” These classic quotes are absent here and it leaves a longing in the hearts of the audience. The Athenians lack the suicidal willingness for battle, and you can tell by the performances.
While the dialogue is lackluster and the story mediocre, there are a handful of cool parts to be found. The Persians getting trapped in a small cove only to be pounced upon by Athenians from the surrounding cliff sides were a highlight, and the final battle with Themistokles on horseback (at sea) gets you pretty excited. I thought that the visuals were pretty awesome, but those who don’t like the green screen should stay away.
Leonidas and the brave 300 was never going to be topped, I think everyone can agree with me on that. Some stories just don’t really need a sequel, no matter what the fan boy/girl within says. We had a classic stand-alone film with the original 300, but now we have a sad sequel that utterly fails in comparison. Go see it if you want to escape for a few hours, but be prepared to shake your head in disappointment and say to yourself, “RIP Leonidas, you’re surely missed…”