When "300" was released in 2007, the story of the ferocious Battle of Thermopylae was a visual masterpiece created with bold cinematic brushstrokes, fearless visual design and strong depiction of violence by director Zack Snyder. The depiction of the graphic novel by Frank Miller, the man behind the stylish "Sin City," was original, fresh and memorable.
The sequel, "300: Rise of an Empire," is none of those things.
Directed by Noam Murro, the film is a cheap copy that no longer has an edge. It comes across as nothing more than a trite and cliched effort. Even the tidal waves of blood that accompany each vicious sword cut no longer look artistic and feel more like overkill.
"300: Rise of an Empire," based on Miller's graphic novel "Xerxes," takes place during the same time period as the 300 Spartans are valiantly trying to stop the Persians. Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) commands the Greek navy in a showdown against the Persian navy under the control of Artemisia (Eva Green).
Through the darkened haze of 3-D glasses, the watery battles unfold. Unlike the massive battles in "300," these showdowns are more tactical with Themistokles outwitting his opponent multiple times. That's interesting, but it doesn't resonate with the same heroics of "300."
When Gerard Butler's character of King Leonidas rallied the troops in "300," his speeches were delivered with such a booming passion there was no doubt his troops were inspired to rush into battle. Stapleton's no Butler. His speeches sound more like a car dealership owner trying to excite his team to sell more cars. To add to the audio failings, the narration by Lena Headey, who reprises her "300" role as Queen Gorgo, doesn't sound inspiring but more like the bad kind of poetry you might hear at an open mic night at a coffee shop.
Even the battles aren't as interesting. In "300," the small group of Spartans faced waves of attacks by foes with ever-increasing strength. All you have in "Rise of an Empire" are a few boats running into each other. And because of the stylish way the film has been shot, it's often difficult to tell the good guy's boat from the bad guy's boat.
One of the big trademarks of "300" was the way the violence was depicted. Because the approach was fresh then, despite its unyielding barrage, the violent moments came across as choreographed chaos. With the newness gone, all of the bloody battles in "Rise of an Empire" come across as gratuitous and boring.
It gets worse. Although the key plot element of "Rise of an Empire" is the naval battle, the real fight is between Themistokles and Artemisia, who manage — in the middle of a war — to find a time and place to get together for sex. Their verbal battles are far more interesting. Having their encounter played out with such extreme physicality doesn't make it interesting, just painful to watch. It's all part of a very creepy sexual element that permeates the movie.
Under Snyder's hand, "300" was both a stunning visual treat and a compelling action movie. What Murro's "300: Rise of an Empire" lacks in originality, it makes up for in bland characters, a plodding story and an off-putting masochistic streak.
"300: Rise of an Empire," rated R for graphic violence, language, sexual content. Stars Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro. Directed by Noam Murro. Running time: 103 minutes. Grade: D+
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.