Sequels to films can simultaneously excite and scare fans of the original, but 300 purists can breathe a sigh of relief as Rise of an Empire isn't a direct follow-up.
Think of Rise of an Empire more as an accompanying film as it takes place before, during and after the events in 300 and if you enjoyed the original you are sure to enjoy this action-packed adventure.
Where Gerard Butler's Leonidas leaves off, Sullivan Stapleton's Themistokles picks up. He is a brave warrior, a hero to the Greeks and a fierce adversary to the Persians. Where 300 focussed on the Spartans fighting the King-God Xerxes at Thermopylae, and this battle is referred to in Rise of an Empire, the main action here is at sea with Themistokles and his men striving to present a united Greece against the Persian forces.
On paper Themistokles is a great character, but Stapleton's performance is often flat and although his back story is supposed to add depth to his character, he just fails to ignite that passion that should make you really root for the Greeks. A much more interesting character is that of his multi-faceted and fearsome adversary Artemisia (Green).
Artemisia was an advisor to the late Persian King Darius, who Themistokles is credited with killing, and she's the kind of baddie that is so damaged and brilliant she becomes the star of the film. As we watch her play the puppet-master to Xerxes and command her troops at sea we find her to be a ruthless, ferocious leader but it is when we learn more about her past that her character really steals the show.
Visually Rise of an Empire is stunning and in IMAX there is that extra level of involvement in the action and at times it feels as though you're playing a video game. Yes, there is a lot of blood, be-heading and general decapitation but it's so dramatic and artistically produced that it never feels too gorey or gratuitous. The battles appear as though they have come alive from the page of Frank Miller's graphic novel and it worked excellently in 3D.
Luckily for Rise of an Empire, the visuals make up for where the dialogue is lacking, and with Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo acting as narrator, her familiar voice ties the two films, and ultimately one epic story, together and tells you everything you need to know. The dialogue really serves as a tool to get you from one battle to the next, and for fans of the genre there's nothing wrong with that.