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300: Rise of an Empire(2014)
Based on Frank Miller's latest graphic novel "Xerxes" and told in the breathtaking visual style of the blockbuster "300," this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh battlefield--on the sea--as Greek general Themistokles attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war. "300: Rise of an Empire" pits Themistokles against the massive invading Persian forces led by mortal-turned-god Xerxes, and Artemesia, vengeful commander of the Persian navy.
For more about 300: Rise of an Empire and the 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray release, see 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 14, 2014 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Eva Green, Rodrigo Santoro, Sullivan Stapleton, Jack O'Connell (IV), Lena Headey, David Wenham
Director: Noam Murro
» See full cast & crew
300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray Review
"For glory's sake, war!"
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, June 14, 2014
Bigger, noisier, bloodier, more brutal and more aggressive, absolutely. Director Noam Murro and producer/co-writer Zack Snyder's 300: Rise of an Empire dutifully plays the role of big-budget sequel to Snyder's 2007 surprise box office hit, dishing out a gory, visceral assault on the senses that ups the franchise ante in every conceivable way. As a companion piece, it employs a rarely used sequel-structure, weaving the new story of Athenian hero Themistocles into the fabric of the now-familiar tale of Spartan king Leonidas' fateful stand at Thermopylae. It even distances itself from 300, leaving the shores of Greece to focus on the crucial naval battles raging at sea. All well and good. But is it a better film than its predecessor? Adrenaline junkies will surely shout "tonight we dine in HELL!" And if viewed sheerly as mindless entertainment -- call it Big Dumb Hyper-stylized Historical Fun -- they might be right. Unfortunately, Rise of an Empire lacks some of the poetry, power, pacing and visual prowess of the original, reveling in blunt force trauma that occasionally borders on self-parody.
As King Leonidas (a briefly glimpsed but frustratingly absent Gerard Butler) defies the leaders of Sparta and wages war with invading God-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the politicians of Athens choose a different course of action, sending a large fleet of ships to engage the still-overwhelming forces of the Persian navy. Athens entrusts its fleet to its greatest warrior, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who years earlier killed Xerxes' father, King Darius I (Yigal Naor). Xerxes, in turn, tasks his finest commander and sole confidant, the manipulative and vengeful Artemisia (Eva Green), with destroying the Athenian navy. Like Leonidas, Themistokles must rely on skill and strategy to combat the enormous size and strength of his enemy. Unlike Leonidas, though, martyrdom will not forge a road to victory. It will take all he has to defeat Artemisia, all he is to overcome such insurmountable odds, and eventually all he can muster to convince Sparta and grieving widow Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) to aid Athens in their most dire hour of need.
It would be easier to label Rise of an Empire an imitation if Snyder weren't so directly involved with the production. All the same, Murro isn't as confident or accomplished a filmmaker and struggles to evoke Snyder's patented style while realizing a vision all his own. The result is decidedly similar yet decidedly different. Whereas Snyder clung to comic artist Frank Miller's illustrations and composition to stunning ends, Murro paints with wider swaths of CG on a much glossier canvas. The results are still striking, just not quite so hypnotic or impressive. Green-screening is much more obvious. FX seams more apparent. Armies more akin to animated action figures. And sword fights and battle scenes less impactful and convincing. Add to that Murro's shakier grasp on slow motion, his relative weakness in comic-panel framing, and some trouble he encounters when staging climactic action beats and you have a film that looks the part by and large but doesn't feel quite right. By the time Themistokles mounts a horse hidden in the belly of his boat and begins galloping from one sinking Persian ship to the next, swinging his sword and thrusting devastating kicks at dazed onlookers, any sense of artful grace has drained away. His subsequent clash and standoff with Artemisia is even sillier, failing to earn the payoff it so eagerly expects to collect.
The script suffers too, first and foremost from the prevailing pretentiousness of the narration, but more subtly from its foundations. Historically, Athens and Sparta represented two diametrically oppositional philosophies. Athens was a city-state of the arts and sciences; Sparta of war. 300 exuded all things Sparta. Rise of an Empire touches on this underlying conflict -- several times over actually -- but tends to reduce it to a second-tier theme at best, and an inconsistent one at that. Themistokles and his men may as well be the Spartans at the end of the day (with Artemisia standing in for Xerxes), and much of the same-iness of the sequel is rooted in this mirroring. Rather than provide a more reluctant warrior who rises to greatness through varying means, we get Leonidas Part Deux. (Side note: the real Themistokles didn't kill a king and, later, lived out his days as an exile of Greece and a Persian governor.) Rather than continually explore the dramatic divide between Athens and Sparta, it's dealt with superficially. Not organically either, but as the screenplay dictates. How problematic does it get? The film's third act hinges on Themistokles, an Athenian, attempting to convince Gorgo, a Spartan, to go to war. And though that may strike some as a small nitpick, it's indicative of the from-the-hip shotgunning in which Snyder and co-writer Kurt Johnstad indulge; a carelessness that drives some of the more questionable decisions made by the characters. (Chief among them the "negotiations" between Themistokles and Artemisia, which, even if interpreted as a game of manipulation, is about as laughable as it is nonsensical. If not immediately then hopefully upon closer examination.)
Did I hate Rise of an Empire? Surprise! Not at all. It isn't the full-fledged sequel it could have been, or even very satisfying on its own terms, but it has the makings of a great film and, I gotta say, I enjoyed a good chunk of it. Strike Back's Stapleton is a magnetic lead who brings far more to the table than the script provides, drawing upon his innate grit and gristle to deliver a hero worthy of the 300-verse. Green, meanwhile, is a sexy, slinky femme fatale from start to finish, chomping down on the entire film and gnawing through action sequences with the fierceness and ferocity of a true warrior princess. Santoro is excellent, especially in the pre-god Xerxes flashbacks, and Headey, though a bit out of her element when charging into battle, lends emotional weight and gravitas to an otherwise glorified cameo. The high seas action is a blast too, at least once you give up the hope that it will ever amount to anything more than an exercise in let's top ourselves again! blood-letting. The ship combat is reasonably thrilling (above all, the first two naval skirmishes), the swordplay is fairly exciting, and the callbacks to the first film are, every now and then, pretty clever. 300 is still the smarter, savvier, more visually stirring comicbook actioner, but I suspect Rise of an Empire is better suited to mass audience consumption. So grab some popcorn, switch off the ol' brain-pan and watch sword pierce flesh, metal splinter wood, and ancient Persian might dash itself on the rocks of Athenian and Spartan will.
For a more positive take on the film, read Brian Orndorf's March 2014 theatrical review.
300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray, Video Quality
Rise of an Empire's 1080p/AVC-encoded video presentation is a first-rate stunner, with an exceedingly refined image faithful to Murro and DP Simon Duggan's blood-soaked vision and flawless even in the face of the film's most frenetic action scenes. Colors are desaturated and stylized as intended, with opulent golds, sun-bathed ambers, stormy blues, visceral reds and deep, inky blacks. Contrast remains vibrant throughout too, and detail never falters. Edges are razor sharp -- no ringing or aliasing to contend with -- and textures are revealing. Note the flecks of blood that spray across a warrior's face. The stubble that frames a hardened jaw. The shards and splinters of wood that explode from the hull of a battered ship. The pinpoint specks of dust and glowing embers suspended in the breeze. The spray of water from a crashing wave. And the wear and tear of a battleworn blade. Moreover, grain is intact (although much more subdued than that which assaults the original 300), while significant macroblocking, banding and other issues are nowhere to be seen. All told, 300: Rise of an Empire's video encode is the stuff of shock and awe.
300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track is armed to the teeth and ready for war. The LFE channel exerts its authority again and again, throwing the full weight and power of its fury behind every meaty shlunk of metal meeting bone, every ear-splitting ship to ship collision, every booming crack of thunder or fiery explosion, and every roar, charge and impact of the Athenian forces. Rear speaker activity is aggressive and immersive as well, submerging the listener in the watery chaos of the film's naval battles, the clash of countless swords and the surge of the sea. Directionality is precise, pans are silky smooth and dynamics are outstanding. Better still, no matter how loud or unruly the soundscape becomes, the mix doesn't miss a single opportunity to deliver upon its potential. Dialogue isn't hindered either, with intelligible, perfectly prioritized voices that are never forced to compete with the sounds of war or the ebb and flow of the Junkie XL score. 300: Rise of an Empire is an AV titan.
300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
300: Rise of an Empire doesn't live up to the memory of Leonidas or the boldness of 300, but it's a suitably entertaining sequel, so long as you don't mind Big Dumb Fun invading the second chapter of Snyder's soon to be three-picture saga. The Blu-ray edition knows how to handle itself in battle, though, and brings with it an absolutely stunning video presentation and intimidating DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track, as well as a solid complement of special features. Worth the cost of admission? Sure, just dial your expectations down a bit to more easily enjoy the brutal, bloody good time Murro has in store.
300: Rise of an Empire: Other Editions
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300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray, News and Updates
• 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray - Exclusive Giveaway - June 21, 2014
Blu-ray.com and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment are offering three members the opportunity to win a copy of producer/co-writer Zack Snyder and director Noam Murro's 300: Rise of an Empire. The film stars Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson ...
• 300: Rise of an Empire Blu-ray - May 5, 2014
Warner Bros. Home Entertainment has announced the Blu-ray release of co-writer Zack Snyder and director Noam Murro's 300: Rise of an Empire, the sequel to Snyder's 300. Based on the upcoming Frank Miller graphic novel "Xerxes," the film stars Sullivan Stapleton, ...
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