Zack Snyder’s stylishly violent swords and sandals epic, 300, was a surprise box office smash (taking in $456 million worldwide in the spring of 2007), but no one kids themselves into believing that his cinematic vision was not responsible for that chest-beating comic book adaptation being so enjoyable to watch. This is why the upcoming sequel/prequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, has prompted more wariness than excitement, as Snyder passed on directing to make Man of Steel instead.
Rise of an Empire is based on Frank Miller’s 300 companion graphic novel “Xerxes,” which Snyder and his 300 co-writer Kurt Johnstad adapted in a script. The film centers about the Battle of Artemisium, a naval conflict that pitted the Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) against the vengeful commander on the Persian navy, Artemesia (Eva Green), plus the Persian leader Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who acquired a serious god complex by the period.
Not surprisingly, the newly-released Rise of an Empire trailer appeals heavily to everyone’s nostalgia for the first movie, between shots of Xerxes leering over King Leonidas’ (Gerard Butler’s) corpse and the VO narration by Lena Headey – who’s now a more substantial star thanks to Bet on Thrones – reprising as Queen Gorgo. That’s despite the fact that neither 300 lead is expected to create anything further than a glorified cameo within the new installment (a misleading, but smart, marketing angle to consider).
The Battle of Artemisium occurred at the same time as the Battle of Thermopylae depicted in 300; hence, Rise of an Empire is described as being a 300 ”mid-quel” rather than either a pure sequel or prequel. The Rise of an Empire director Noam Murro has said the film will offer a “whole different choreography of fighting and war,” which could be an effective means to distinguish the movie from Snyder’s brazen storytelling and action coordination in its predecessor. (Or, it could just be an excuse for why Murro’s adaptation feels like a hollow knockoff.)
So far, based on the trailer, the digitally-enhanced visuals and cinematography in Rise of an Empire seem decent, but they lack that extra “oomph” factor and flair that Snyder brought to the proceedings. And bless Stapleton for effort, but he doesn’t seem to possess either the macho presence or yelling capacity that made Butler so memorable as a Greek warrior. Maybe Green playing a treacherous warrior lady will make up for that…?