With Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Rodrigo Santoro, Jack O’Connell. Directed by Noam Murro. Written by Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad. Rated R for strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language. 102 minutes.
Now where were we? Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) had just had a standoff with the brave Spartan army in “300” amidst choreographic slo-mo battles, spurting CGI blood and lots of other special effects. Graphic novelist Frank Miller continued the story in Xerxes, which now forms the basis for 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. If you liked stylized, computerized carnage before, there’s no reason you won’t like it again.
This time, the battle is mostly on water where the Athenian known as Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) has tried to unite all the Greek city-states in their common defense. Only Sparta demurs with Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), having decided they’ve given enough. The bulk of the film consists of showing the clever ways in which Themistokles leads his forces both on offense and defense against greatly superior forces.
That’s pretty much it, including a subplot about a young warrior (Jack O’Connell) wanting to prove himself worthy, with one exception. The Persian forces are led by Artemisia (Eva Green) and when she’s on screen, the movie jumps out at you even more so than with the 3D glasses. She’s got a backstory that causes her to hate the Greeks (even though she is one) and she is utterly ruthless. She’s also incredibly hot, but this isn’t merely to satisfy the fanboys in the audience. This is a woman who uses her sexual prowess as a weapon, and it can be deadly as any other.
She’s easily the most interesting character in the story, holding her own with Themistokles and Xerxes. Green plays her as larger than life, but always aware of what she’s doing. She’s in control the whole time. Woe be to the underlings who don’t give her what she wants. It’s not only the only complex character in the film, but the film’s most alive performance. The rest of the cast goes through its CGI battles at the level of many of the second rate swords-and-sandals epics that have crossed our movie screens over the years.
As with the earlier film, you’re constantly aware that only some of what we’re seeing on screen is real. So as limbs are hacked and blood spurts it seems more like a video game than a real battle. One almost expects numbers in the corner keeping track of Greek and Persian casualties so we can keep score.
It’s not a spoiler–more of a historical fact–that the Greek/Persian war isn’t resolved here anymore than it was at the end of “300.” It’s not clear if there is going to be a continuation of the story or not. As there probably aren’t many people going to these films because they’re diehard history buffs, it’s not like people can’t wait to see how it turns out. Indeed, given that it was eight years since the last film, it doesn’t seem like a sure thing. Since the real wars spanned over fifty years, we could have a long wait.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, MA.