Zach Snyder’s distinctive directorial style largely eschews the very rudimentary principles of coherent plotting and characterisations for a hyper-stylised assemble of visual set pieces. Only his finer work, 2007’s 300, was interspersed with political jingoism amidst the relentless carnage and the visual gymnastics. This interesting self-satisfying patriotism was an attack on altruistic lore, which went onto mar the cinematic landscape of the late noughties that had been, hitherto, fixated on this clichéd heroism (see for instance Pirate of the Caribbean and Spiderman).
Snyder’s conceit in that film was that a scantily clothed Gerard Butler and his semi-nude militia of 300 Spartans were a driving force for political jingoism against the impending savagery and brutality of King Xerxes’s Persian invasion. ‘’Rise of an Empire’’, the much belated follow-up, takes place in parallel with the events of the original, in which King Leonidas’s (Butler, in a fairly redundant and gruesome cameo) failed coup sees the rise of Xerxes on Greece. Meanwhile, a high-ranking Athenian general named Themistocles assembles his troops to launch war on this daunting Persian invasion. But it seems that Xerxes rationale for world domination has a more feminine drive: One that takes the incarnation of ruthless commander Artemisia.
Hunky beefcake Stalpleton, as the central hero of the tale, is an improvement on Bulter’s smug chauvinism that severely hindered the audience’s empathy of his fall from prominence in the first film. His wide grey eyes – framed by the opulent CGI flourishes and beautiful cinematography—convey the urgency of the drama that is built upon the political merry-go-round of invasion, war and stylised comic violence. However, he is relentlessly upstaged by Eva Green: a spectacularly bitchy, magnificently imposing and relentlessly charismatic incarnation. To place her as the antagonist of the narrative is most likely indicative of the producers’ active appeasement for the feminist reviewers of the first film that criticised the lack of women at the core of the central story.
The writers wisely revel in her charisma by removing the straitjacket restrains plaguing other female anti-heroines and letting her anchor the frequently aimless narrative (ironically she is the naval commander). They also use this naval dictatorship as a framing device to stage some of the magnificent naval battles, which, obliviously, are manufactured with the contextual focus on delivering bigger and broader action, staged within the visual style and parameters of the original. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of undue padding between this momentarily stunning showcases of visual arts interspersed with the hyperkinetic violence.
Exposition heavy dialogue – including a slackly narrated and talky opening – mars the opportunistic narrative that should be focused on disregard of active appeasement in favour of political patriotism , which only shows sporadically: ‘We all face the monster that cast a shadow throughout our land’.
The lack of plotting is also conspicuous in the very narrative that it supposed to support. Up until the third act, the narrative has little to add to the ending of the original, which was so effective homing in the theme of self-sacrifice in the turbulent political landscape. Here, the effect is muted by the unrelenting exposition and crudity: The sole sex scene falls completely flat because of the lack of chemistry between its stars, whilst some of the dialogue – “You fight harder than you f***” and “You’ve come a long way to stroke your c*** watching real men train”—veers on the absurd.
An aggressive explosion of visual wonder, violence, sex and romance that, clearly, places emphasis on skyrocketing style over substance, making it shallow as its predecessor and like any other mainstream action movie for that matter. Still entertaining and fun, for what it’s worth….