A unique take on the 300 franchise

franchise
A scene from the movie 300 — Rise of an Empire

Tinashe Kusema  Film Review
Some movies simply define a genre while others catapult their stars to the next level but it’s really rare to find one that does both.It is for this reason that I found 300 — Rise of an Empire to be a rather refreshing and special film as it did both in defining the genre while at the same time also elevating Eva Green to the A-list.

Back in 2006, Zimbabwe was spellbound by 300, an epic that was both loaded with visuals and rich in language.
300 did the impossible and exposed the locals to a genre as old as time but virtually restricted to the movie buffs whose only claim to fame, at the time, were the Harry Potter movies and Robin Hood straight to DVD movies.

Unfortunately the following movies in this genre lacked in both respects — case in point being Rise and Wrath of the Titans — and suddenly the excitement vanished.

Jump six years later and suddenly there is hope.

300 — Rise of an Empire is neither a sequel nor prequel but a different perspective to the same story as the time line is the same but the viewpoints different.

After its victory over Leonidas’ 300, the Persian Army under the command of Xerxes marches towards the major Greek city-states.

The Democratic city of Athens, first on the path of Xerxes’ army, bases its strength on its fleet, led by Admiral Themistocles.

Themistocles is forced to an unwilling alliance with the traditional rival of Athens, oligarchic Sparta whose might lies with its superior infantry troops as they attempt to topple the human god Xerxes who reigns supreme in numbers over sea and land.

The film now tells the story of what happened to the rest of Greece as Leonidas and his brave 300 waged a war against the Persian intrusion.

There are so many things that make this movie just as strong as the original and somewhat superior.

First, writers Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad cleverly merged the stories as Themistocles and the united Greece took it to Xerxes at sea while Leonidas waged war himself on land.

This, in essence, is not really a hard thing to accomplish, neither is it revolutionary as all one needs to do is make a few references and throw in a couple of cameos from the first film, something that the writers did well.

However, it was a nice take of the franchise as it threw almost everyone involved on a loop as the trailer and marketers did not divulge any of this information.

Kudos, for that!

The writing duo also went further and gave the film a little more flesh as there are a lot of back stories to key characters in the film, namely the lead Themistocles, whose love of Greece and military mind are both put on a pedestal.

His protagonist Artemisia is more complex and required more detail, something that was done well. The second act of the film delves more into her story as it chronicles her Greek heritage, throwing in a tragedy or two as her family gets slaughtered by Greeks who then proceed to rape her and leave her for dead.

Reprieve comes in the form of a Persian general who rescues, trains and raises her.

I believe this little story was the film’s strongest point as it humanised the character, brought to life by the immaculate Eva Green, and enriches our understanding of her psyche.

Performances-wise, 300, the franchise, can do no wrong.

While Gerard Butler brought the film to life with his unmatched portrayal of Leonidas, Sullivan Stapleton comes in with a valiant effort as Themistocles. He lacks the charm and presence of Butler on-screen but as grit and compassion as the naval mastermind.

Lena Headey, much like she did in the first film, begs for a bigger part but does her bit like a loyal little soldier.
Actors can learn a thing or two when it comes to dealing with small roles: shut up and just do them well.

As the magnanimous queen Gorgo, Headey’s charm and grace are only matched by her strength of character. Maybe when they make the third instalment, the audience may see her wield the sword and slay herself some Persian a little more.

The star of the show, however, has to be Green, hands down.

She totally embodies her wicked and scary Artemisia persona and leaves us begging for more. Not only is the character the best and most well rounded one in the two films but Green embodies the role in its entirety, something I thought I would never see after Heath Ledger died never to don the Joker persona ever again.

The only downside to her portrayal is that we may never see an Artemisia and Queen Gorgo fight or battle of wits.
One has to see the film to know why. She has great presence on the screen, merging both grace and brute force effortlessly. She also exudes great chemistry with her co-stars, sometimes stealing scenes.

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