'300: Rise Of An Empire' Review: Burn It All Down Until Not Even The Memory Remains
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'300: Rise Of An Empire' Review: Burn It All Down Until Not Even The Memory Remains

By TK | Film Reviews | March 6, 2014 | Comments ()


2006’s Zack Snyder-directed 300 was a modestly entertaining picture, one that initially garnered great enthusiasm for its innovative style, impressive costuming, and absolute determination to show as much male skin as possible. Based on the Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name, it was an R-rated bloody cheese-fest, and while it gets weaker with each subsequent viewing, it was wildly popular when it was released, raking in an impressive $210 million. Despite its success, I do not recall anyone clamoring for a sequel. And yet, here we are.

Things have changed, of course, for 300: Rise Of An Empire. Snyder has vacated the director’s chair, content with scribbling out the screenplay and playing producer. Instead, it’s helmed by first-timer Noam Murro, and based — we think, anyway — on Frank Millers as-of-yet unreleased sequel, Xerxes. Obviously, many of the leads from the original film are absent, given how many of them died in the original. Returning are Lena Headey as the warrior-queen Gorgo, and Rodrigo Santoro as the god-king Xerxes, although neither role is particularly substantial.

This time, the film focuses on both the events leading up to that battle at the Hot Gates, as well as its aftermath. It’s all about naval battles this time around, drawing on the battles of Artemisium, Thermopylae, and Marathon, and centering on two opposing leaders — Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), the leader of the Greek army, and Artemisia (Eva Green), the admiral of Xerxes’s navy. It wildly veers back and forth between the past and present, dealing with the battle where Themistocles killed Xerxes father, which set off this chain of events, and the two major naval battles where Xerxes — through Artemisia — made his final push to try to conquer Greece.

I tell you all of this not because I want you to think that Rise Of An Empire is particularly intelligent or historically accurate, but rather to give you an idea of the scale and scope of its absolutely staggering ineptitude. Historical storytelling is often a fluid endeavor, prone to creative license and dramatic reinterpretation. Yet this mangles any sense of historical accuracy, taking the events as well as the biographies of its players, stomping on them until they are nigh-unrecognizable, and urinating on whatever remains. 300: Rise Of An Empire is an absolutely bugfuck crazy pot of horribleness, a worthless, murky sinkhole of terrible writing, directing, acting, and editing.

I could forgive its decision to vulgarly squat atop any semblance of historical fidelity if the story that it chose to tell was of any worth, but alas, this is not to be. Instead, it’s a garbled mess of old men shouting “MURMUR!”, shirtless heroes giving nonsensical speeches replete with pithy motivational slogans, and bad guys muttering slithery proclamations of conquest and villainy. All of this is supposed to give the appearance of political intrigue and complexity, except that the story is so simple that you’d have to actually be unconscious not to grasp it. There are desperate attempts to recapture the urgency and intensity of Gerard Butler’s “THIS! IS! SPARTA!” or Michael Fassbenders wry, clever “Then we will fight in the shade” moments, but they fall flat, victim to hackneyed writing and soulless delivery. Instead, we’re treated to characters doing little more than making obvious, trite declarations via shouty imitations of what they think made the original film interesting. But watching Santoro loudly lisp “Nothing will stop the march of my empire!” and “For glory’s sake, WAR!” or listening to Stapleton dully yammer about duty and honor and loyalty over and over and over does little more than drive home the point that you’re watching a sad, flaccid imitation of the original.

The acting is uniformly abysmal, with Stapleton somehow managing to be both loud and wooden, and Santoro over-acting even more than he did in the original. Headey’s queen Gorgo is just Cersei Lannister but with less charisma, menace, or nuance, and she grits her teeth and stares blankly as she mumbles eye-rolling lines about winds of justice and vengeance. Yet no one — no one — acquits themselves as poorly as Eva Green in a performance that is near-hysterical in its epic terribleness. Green is something of an enigma, capable of great subtlety and intensity in films like Cracks and even Casino Royale. But sometimes she tries to just sexily smolder her way through a performance, and that’s part of what drags her down here. She glowers and struts and cranks her sultry up to eleven, doing everything within her power to give the worst performance possible. It’s not aided by the character being written as a complete cartoon, executing her soldiers and then making out with the severed head, waggling her fingers, and screaming incoherently. After an absolutely ridiculous sex scene, a scratching, biting, shrieking exchange that isn’t even remotely titillating, she ends up facing her conjugal partner in battle and screeches “you FIGHT better than you FUCK!” and the audience literally burst into what can only be called embarrassed giggles.

In fact, it’s her character that takes the worst beating from the writers, no pun intended. Artemisia is indeed a fascinating character, a warrior and leader, queen of a Persian province despite being not just Greek, but a woman as well. She’s a legendary, fearless, and cunning figure known for her wisdom as well as her military acumen. Yet here, she’s a raving psychotic, a shrill, looney-tunes harpy who charges recklessly into battles simply out of petulant anger. Worst of all, the writers decided that simply having a warrior-queen who commanded thousands of men based on her skills and loyalty to her king wasn’t enough motivation, so they went back to the old patriarchal standby.

Yup, years before, Artemisia was raped by a gang of Greek soldiers, then held captive for 10 years and used as a child sex slave, shown through a thoroughly unpleasant vignette where we get to see her family raped and killed in silhouette, and then her as a child punched out and chained inside a ship, as a shadowy figure walks towards her. Let’s be clear — this 100% did not happen, but of course nothing makes for a better plot motivation than a good rape (something the first film is guilty of as well). In fact, it’s not even the only rape alluded to or depicted — the film opens with a naked woman being carried off by Persian soldiers, with the camera cutting away just as they begin, another completely unnecessary, distasteful sequence.

300: Rise Of An Empire is a horrendously bad film that fails even as brainless action entertainment. The action sequences are, save for a couple of straightforward single take combat scenes, hyper-edited and brought to their knees by a hideous excess of slow-motion and so much darkness and shadow — likely in an effort to make the copious spurting blood stand out more — that it’s nearly impossible to actually tell what is happening. But it’s the writing and acting that crush it to the ground, grinding out any semblance of intelligence or interest, and making the film into an gore-laden heap of visual dreck accompanied by an obnoxious cacophony that beats at your eardrums. It has literally nothing worthwhile to offer, and those who see it voluntarily will likely never forgive themselves.

TK doesn’t like you. But you can email him here, or follow him on Twitter here.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Jkara

    I saw the film ... Loved it..tons of action, pretty to watch.... Kinda sucks how far they veered from the actual truth. Well worth the money to see. Eva Green was awesome too.

  • Sassy Pikachu

    If Kratos was in this movie it would've ended in 15 minutes. and Xerxes would have been pulled apart by him. Rage.

  • Sassy Pikachu

    Say what you will, but I just cannot get over how much I LOVE the bed the old Persian king had in the movie. That is a glorious bed and I want it. Even though it's bigger than my entire apartment.

  • The original was homoerotic-soft-core for neck-beards written by a Nazi and shot like a cut-scene from an X-box game.

  • Ben

    Most dissapointing part of this movie for me is the entire hype built around a sequel for 300 is from the ending scene of 300, where captain mc one eye is all like "They fought 300 spartans and we spanked em like little sissies, now they face the entire spartan army in all their glorious bronzed ab-tastic jockstraps" (Direct quote) and this movie... doesn't show that? Instead we get captain blue cape fighting on boats, and ending AGAIN, with the full force of the spartan army showing up to save them and... we don't see it.


  • Guest

    F**ng terrible movie. Should not even be compared with the original 300.

    Terrible plot, Terrible acting (so many piss weak/wrongly cast
    characters - eg. Themistokles), unimaginative cinematography/editing,
    crap ideas and boring computer game style fights and effects.

    Did not like a single character in this film. This was torture to sit through.

  • Strand

    I noticed in the trailer that Eva Green shags the male lead (and thus... her enemy right?) and since I read the synopsis, I've been wondering how on Earth they could possibly make that an actual scene in this movie.

    I didn't know it would be so rapey. Gregor Clegane approves.

  • Equinox

    Pfft* I am only encouraged by this review as it suggests that my long and fruitless quest for a new 'favorite drinking game movie' may at last be reaching it's epic conclusion.

    Who can possibly argue with the general awsomeness of:

    Take a shot each time a character makes out with a decapitated corpse.

  • kirbyjay

    Sullivan Stapleton. I watch Strike Back because....... I don't really know why I watch it......but I kind of enjoy Stapleton and Phillip Winchester's camaraderie. That said, there is surely better actors in the world than Sullivan Stapleton, and this could be the understatement of the millennia, though I guess he's pretty good at the sexy time since he has a graphic sex scene in every episode, this being Cinemax and all.

  • Sean

    You watch Strike Back because is stupid fun. Gunfight, explosion, car chase. Sex scene. Gun fight, explosion, car chase. Sex scene. Repeat week after week. It is wonderful trash.

  • Stu Rat

    So, are TK and SLW going to wrestle over which is worse, this or Getaway?

  • Al Borland's Beard

    "Despite its success, I do not recall anyone clamoring for a sequel."

    Spike TV watchers and Ed Hardy enthusiasts? Guys who use "bro" as a prefix? Gerard Butler's agent?

  • John W

    So you're saying 300: Rise of an Empire won't displace Citizen Kane as the greatest movie ever made?

  • BlackRabbit

    I don't understand why Gorgo can't just call someone else for help, like Rodan or Anguirus.

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    I have a feeling that Headley was doing it for the pay check; wasn't she broke not a year ago thanks to her separation? I recall reading an article saying she was basically living off her friends' kindness for a while...

  • Alicia

    What's she getting from "Game of Thrones"? I would hope it would be enough to pay the bills.

  • Sean

    Actually very little. Remember, she only is in 10-12 scenes a season. I think she was getting $15k per show. After taxes(probably taxes in a few countries), agent fees,union dues, etc...that isn't much. I was recently surprised to find out how little most actors really make. I mean, actors that actually work.

  • Jenn TheYellowDart

    Oh, I'm sure she's NOW been paid for that; but there was a while there (I believe right after season 1 wrapped) where she had ZERO cash and that's when this 300 monstrosity was being offered...

    Edit to include a huff post article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/...

  • Maddy

    Both Lena Headey and Eva Green deserve better than this movie

  • Sean

    I would be delighted to treat both of them very nicely.

  • Bert_McGurt

    So what you're saying is it's a pretty accurate representation of a modern Frank Miller book.

  • Sean

    Sigh, I had that conversation last night with a friend. That huge waste of talent that Miller has become. I am old enough to actually have bought Frank Miller comics in the late 70s/early 80s. Just pathetic what he has become. At least Steve Ditko mostly hides and doesn't share his craziness with the world.

  • Ben

    What is with amazing comic book writers going bugfuck crazy in their old age. Miller, Moore, Ditko.

  • Sean

    Actually, I don't think Moore is crazy. I think he is playing the part. He enjoys playing with people. I actually imagine he is quite fun in person.

  • Ben

    Regardless of weather the whole interdeimensional snake god worshiping wizard part is real or bullshit (I'm of the oppinion that I don't think he was ever really sane to begin with) The quality of his comics has dropped off about as much as that of Miller.

    League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has turned into an absolute clusterfuck, Necronomicon was way too obsessed with fish fucking for anyones good, Lost Girls not only made me feel like I would be put on some kind of sex offender watch list, but was also painfully fucking boring.

  • BlackRabbit


  • Sean

    Evil muslim whores as well.

  • TherecanbeonlyoneAdmin

    In the interest of saving you some time (not sanity, never that) I'm advising you to copy/paste this review and change the title to "Transformers Review: Balls Deep With a Baynis".

    I'm helping.

  • You said "rape" twice

  • Billybob

    There is, of course, a proper response to this comment, but it could be taken badly out of context.

    I really like Blazing Saddles, though.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I wonder how many rapes will be in Superman v. Batman...

  • VonnegutSlut

    I'm really glad I finished reading all the comments before I posted because I was seconds away from posting the same thing.

    I do believe James Franco in his 50 Shades of Batman, BDSM getup has some ideas for the more lascivious scenes from Snyder's "material."

  • Billybob

    *Insert generic comment about My Childhood/Fandom/The Characters*

    *Cry some moar*

  • Al Borland's Beard

    “you FIGHT better than you FUCK!”

    If Mickey Rourke had a nickel...

  • Well, hell. This was going to be stupid-movie date night, but the rape + bad action scenes + Stapelton's denuded chest have made me rethink. Maybe we'll stay home, pick a series to explore on Netflix, and indulge in long, slow tour of the liquor cabinet. Probably a better date anyway.

  • PDamian

    Toss in a nice cheesecake or the dessert of your choice, and you got a par-TEE.

  • Classic

    That sounds awesome!

  • Maddy

    And of course there's a rape involved - I know Zack Snyder didn't direct, but he might as well have

  • Maddy

    Michael Fassbender was in 300? I really don't remember much about that movie, but I don't know how I forgot that.

  • cruzzercruz

    This made me laugh, just a lavish beating. I'm going to see this piece of crap at some point, under the influence, with as many smart asses as possible to shred it to pieces.

  • J4Sho

    I really wish you'd be a little less ambiguous about how you felt about this movie.

  • Bob Genghis Khan

    I imagine this is what you get when you combine Hollywood's monotonous routine of trying to get a project together and it's utter creative bankruptcy: A film no one asked for, 5 years too late.

  • Merski

    What!? Xerxes is Rodrigo Santoro?! Mind = blown!

  • Sassy Pikachu

    I was mind-blown about the Michael Fassbender part. Now I need to go back and watch that movie.

  • prince_of_montagu

    Sad to hear about Eva Green being terrible. I love her. She was great in Casino Royale and was totally the best thing about Dark Shadows.

  • Arran

    I honestly don't know what he's talking about. Green is kind of amazing in this. Spectacularly fun scenery chewing.

    (I won't defend the movie itself. It's basically nonsense, though I was never bored.)

  • I love me some Eva Green (and not just for her toplessness in either The Dreamers or Camelot. Although, from the bottom of my heart....GOTTAMN WOMAN!). She's one of those women who look more alluring and beautiful the less make-up they wear.

    But she's lousy at picking projects. Follows Casino Royale with The Golden Compass. She manages to be the best thing in both Camelot and Dark Shadows -- and not because she was great, but because they're convoluted messes.

  • patti livernash

    my Aunty Julia got silver Volkswagen Beetle
    Convertible by working parttime off of a home computer... Look At This

  • prince_of_montagu

    In her defense, The Golden Compass had loads of potential to be a good franchise (and i still think Nicole Kidman was an awesome Mrs. Coulter) but they bowdlerized the movie and punted the ending. Dark Shadows seemed perfect for someone like Tim Burton but look at what a mess that was.

    I like her in roles that use that sort of dark beauty she has but it does seem like she's wasting her massive potential.

    Slightly OTT: This is still one of my favorite things she's ever done.


  • Strand

    I thought The Golden Compass was watchable but I 100% understand people who did not understand it at all and lost their shit at the horrible ending. It's a difficult novel to adapt in the first place and would never be a decent standalone movie.

    Still a little bitter that those godawful Narnia movies somehow got 3 movies while The Golden Compass died after one. Now they're adapting The Silver Chair and I don't know they're going to handle the increasing racism in those later books.

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