HERE is a perfect example of a sequel that gives the punters more than what they had with the first movie, except more does not necessarily mean better.
300: Rise of an Empire is both a prequel and sequel to the 2006 swords ‘n sandals action fantasy which made Gerard Butler a star and helped director Zack Snyder get his hands on the poisoned chalice that was the Superman reboot Man of Steel last year.
The original had the virtue of being unlike almost anything seen before, a graphic novel brought to cinematic life with graphic violence to match.
The legendary noble defeat of the freedom fighting Spartans by overwhelming Persian odds in 480 BC is where Rise of an Empire comes in.
Athenian general Themistokles (Stapleton) leads a similarly rag tag bunch of earnest rippling six-pack displaying, proto-democracy soldiers against the massive Persian navy on the Aegean, led by self-proclaimed god-king Xerxes (Santoro) and Artemisia (Green), the pout that launched a thousand ships.
Israeli director Murro gives the audience exactly what they expect - almost relentless epic battle scenes from his digital paintbox. Brutal piercings, hackings and decapitations, sometimes in slow-motion, so we don’t miss anything, and now in 3-D, so the blood looks like its about to splash your popcorn.
Credit to the cast – it cannot be easy keeping a straight face while spouting po-faced cod-Shakespeare dialogue and standing in a loin cloth in front of a green screen in an Bulgarian studio.
Stapleton is hindered in the hero stakes by playing a second-banana character who comes up short in the eyes of his enemies and the audience, who remember berserker Butler’s fully engaged performance of truly Brian Blessed proportions.
Rooting for villainess Green becomes an attractive alternative and the former Bond woman would be chewing the scenery, if there was any.
After all the sound and fury, the door is left wide open for a third installment. Can the audience surrender as well?
TWO POPCORNS OUT OF FIVE
300: Rise of an Empire (MA15+)
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton (Gangster Squad), Rodrigo Santoro (The Last Stand), Eva Green (Dark Shadows).
Director: Noam Murro (Smart People).
Screening: Reading Cinemas Queenstown