Just when you thought there were no more Greek warriors left to decapitate, heads are rolling again in the visually stunning, ultra-bloody “300: Rise of an Empire.”
While 2007′s “300″ followed Sparta’s King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 warriors to their last stand against God-King Xerxes’ 300,000-strong Persian army at Thermopylae, the sequel, set in the same three-day period, takes us elsewhere in ancient Greece, where Athenian general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is organizing other city-states to fend off the invading Persian navy on the Agean Sea, led by the beautiful but obsessively vengeful commander Artemisia (Eva Green).
Unlike the Spartans, who are trained to live and die in battle, Themistokles’ forces are made up of bakers, potters and poets, pitted against the highly trained and innumerable forces of an enemy that would kill or enslave them.
Like the first film, “300: Rise of an Empire” was co-scriped by Zack Snyder (“Watchmen,” “Man of Steel”) and Kurt Johnstad, based on the work of graphic novelist Frank Miller. And as with “300,” the sequel is shot almost entirely using the super-imposition chroma key – or “green screen” – technique, so that all of the backgrounds and bloodletting effects resemble the artwork that makes up Miller’s fantasy world on the printed page.
However, this time out Snyder turns the director’s chair over to Noam Murro (“Smart People”), who may or may not be responsible for a cast of characters with a little more emotional and psychological depth than the group that populated the original film. Sullivan’s (“Gangster Squad”) Themistokles is more sympathetic and less of a superman than Butler’s Leonidas. Likewise with Lena Headey’s (“Game of Thrones”) Spartan queen Gorgo, making a return appearance in an expanded role.
But the real scene stealer is Green as Artemisia, nailing a combination of evil and sexual allure in one of the strongest female roles in recent action-movie history.
It’s the action that some may find objectionable. The battle scenes, like the rest of the film, are highly stylized, and in their balletic nature almost mesmerizing to watch. But the countless number of vivid head and limb choppings, accompanied by copious amounts of spurting, gushing and dripping blood shown in slow- and stop-motion, get to be pretty mind-numbing after a while.
Some fans of the sword-and-sandal genre might be better entertained renting “Spartacus,” or even “Jason and the Argonauts.” Both are more fun to watch, the latter with a heavy dose of fantasy, both leaving out the gratuitous gore.
Meanwhile, fans of “300,” buy your tickets. You’ll be happy. Especially if you see it in 3-D and IMAX. This is rich visceral thrills and eye candy for you.
– Gene Triplett
2 1/2 stars
Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Andrew Tiernan, Andrew Pleavin, Rodrigo Santoro, Hans Matheson, Callan Mulvey, Jack O’Connell, Igal Naor.
(Strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language)