If movies could be classified as crazy, 300: Rise of an Empire would earn an easy “bugnuts insane” rating. Not really a sequel so much as a weird wraparound which both explains and expands on the specious Greek history offered by the first film, this movie is just plain loopy. One minute, director Noam Murro is doing his best Zack Snyder impersonation, slo-mo battles begetting more and more cleverly edited clashes, the next he’s adding so much CG blood that Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers would all scream “ENOUGH!” With a vast collection of chiseled actors and extras to maintain the franchise’s homoerotic element and some straight dude eye candy in the form of Eva Green’s scenery-chewing villain, this frat boy fiesta may not make a lick of sense, but it taps directly into our instinctual entertainment need for sex and violence and satisfies it in long, languid splatters.
We are first introduced to Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) as he is battling the first wave of Persian invaders. This is 10 years before the events in 300 and our hero ends up mortally wounding King Darius I (Yigal Naor). This sends his son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) into a depression and his adopted Greek daughter Artemisia (Green) into a rage. She wants revenge and manipulates her brother into believing that only a “god” can defeat their foreign enemy. Thus, the Xerxes we know from the first film is “born” and while he returns to take on Leonidas and his troops, Artemisia leads a naval battle against Themistocles and his ships. Fast forward and Xerxes is now leading the destruction of Athens. Using the death of Leonidas and his men as examples of martyrdom, Themistocles hopes to rally the rest of Greece, including angry Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), around his cause and beat back the Persians once and for all.
There’s no getting around it — 300: Rise of an Empire is bonkers. It’s sword and sandals injected with steroids, run through a bath of radioactive material just to make sure everything is as superheroic and hyper-human as possible. The acting is acceptable; the narrative relatively simple to follow. But it’s the graphic fight scenes and ample (male) flesh that will keep audiences entranced. With rippling biceps, pecs to spare, and a wealth of available abs, our cast can easily pass for physically prepared. Then director Murro puts them through their paces and the screen is painted in ample gallons of gore. In fact, the individuals responsible for all this animated arterial spray should receive star billing. Even Snyder’s original wasn’t this gory. As blades cleave flesh, huge fountains of vein juice fly across the screen — and when you consider this movie is about 90% swordplay, you’re in for one titanic type-O treat.
At the center of it all is Stapleton and Green, he trying to look stoic and she going gonzo. Indeed, the subtext here belongs to the ladies. As the men sweat and slash each other, Gorgo stands her ground and Artemisia exemplifies evil. Indeed, the guys are nearly nonexistent compared to the fiery fierceness of 300: Rise of an Empire‘s gals. It’s safe to say that while Gerard Butler and his ragtag group of musclemen were the highlights of the first film, part two belongs to Green and the girls. The actress owns every moment she is in, including a clever bit of sexual gameplay with Stapleton’s Themistocles. Without her, this movie would sink like the Persian fleet. With her, it becomes a brazen, badass wonder.
Yes, this is still a situation where style trumps substance, and your ancient history will suffer if you believe everything in this movie is the truth, but when you consider what it was formed from, 300: Rise of an Empire is a success.