Patrick White ‘Rise of an Empire’ epic fail next to ‘300’

Computer-generated images or CGI is used to tell stories without physically present actors such as Disney’s “Frozen” or it can be used to bring us into detailed environments that are difficult to recreate with practical effects. Other options with CGI include distracting action spectacles that become dull after a few minutes. Examples included are the “Star Wars” prequels. In 2006, newcomer Zach Snyder brought to life a new use of CGI to create a gorgeous art form that was adapted from Frank Miller’s graphic novel “300.”

Snyder and the star of “300,” Gerard Butler soon rose to the top of the filmmaking food chain after bringing a refreshing new look at how graphic novels could be adapted into film. Snyder has gone on to adapt “Watchmen,” another highly praised comic series, and the more recent “Man of Steel.” Unfortunately, Butler’s shine has dulled quite a bit as he continues to act in cookie cutter action films. If only these two collaborators could have come back together for the sequel to save the potentially thrilling screenplay.

“300: Rise of an Empire” blandly presents the story of a Greek hero, Themistokles, who leads a small army of men in hopes of taking down the Persians led in battle by Artemisia. The director attempts to humanize these men in opposition of the godlike Spartans in “300,” but this technique only sells the actors short because they look as if they need a few more weeks on the Bowflex. Plus, there’s something to be said for featuring recognizable actors in your film if it’s already part of a possible saga, but Butler is nowhere to be seen and even David Wenham is basically non-existent when I’m sure he could have used the paycheck.

Many critics have commented on the casting in the film because it does do one thing effectively. Women are finally featured in an action movie and surprisingly by the studio who refuses to make a Wonder Woman movie because it doesn’t think a female action hero can connect with a large audience. Lena Headey, a returning actress from the first film, dominates the early narrative when she instills power in the men who will follow her into a battle the audience won’t recognize until the end. Headey does a wonderful job at bringing power to the screen, but she is more or less used as a thread to connect the two films. The fact that she is basically a shouting and speaking prop is a little disheartening, but the studio does commit to another female character, Artemisia, a Persian commander.

Eva Green, who plays Artemisia, should be a huge star by now. She started out as a love interest in “Casino Royale” and was far more interesting than most Bond babes, but she’s also had her not so bright spots with “Dark Shadows,” among others. Luckily, Warner Bros. saw something in Green in that project and she moved onto “300: Rise of an Empire.” Green’s character’s backstory is far more interesting than anything the men do in this movie. I’m proud of the studio and filmmakers for committing to having a prominent female character, but they should have just given this movie to Green. She would have killed it with her performance.

There was a great opportunity to grasp onto the CGI mastery of the first film and a thrilling historical sword and sandal epic, but I just don’t see thorough enough commitment from the director with this film and a studio challenging the action stereotype with female leads. The response to Green’s performance was nothing but positive, so hopefully she finally gets the parts she deserves, because I’d much rather watch “300: Rise of Artemisia.”  

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