THIS! IS! GREECE! For anyone familiar with the first installment, 300, this film takes all the glory and all the steroid-pumped masculine physiques to a whole new level. It happens around the same time as the events of 300, beginning before and finishing after Leonidas marched his red-caped Spartans to Thermopylae. The golden, pencil-eyebrowed Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) appears once again in 300: Rise of an Empire, but only briefly, since his presence is more urgently required at Thermopylae, and the primary focus of this film is the battle of Artemisium, farther in the east. That leaves this film’s Persian command to the sexy, bloodthirsty, always dissatisfied, Artemisia (Eva Green). She pummels the Greeks with her ridiculously big navy and stunningly inventive outfits, while the brave Athenian, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), fights back with creativity and pure brawn. The category “epic” was designed for movies like this.
It may be the black eye shadow, it may be the gold spikes up her spine, or it may be her abhorrence of blinking, but whatever it is, Artemisia is the pinnacle of ‘evil leader’. I would say ‘badass’ but that sounds too cute. Eva Green plays her role like a cobra plays with a mouse. Her costumes are all leather, gold, and malicious. They are mesmerizing. What irks me, however, (probably more than it should) is the appearance of spandex in ancient Greece/Persia. I’ll forgive the fishnets – after all they did fish and they did use nets – but spandex? Why not give her an iPhone and a Wonderbra and call it a day?
She and everyone else (really, everyone else) has a Do or Die speech. Themistocles has more than one. I didn’t go see 300: Rise of an Empire to hear the glorious dialogue. I went to see god-like warriors raise a little hell. The dialogue comes off a little too strong which makes it just a bit cheesy, but I suppose it does balance out the repeated decapitations and impalings. Where director Noam Murro shines, however, is in the battle scenes. He really knows how to get the best angle for the optimum blood splatter – blood which looks more like thick red paint than the real stuff. Still, the gore is almost artistically done, and the fact that the spurting red ink looks fake helps to remind us that 300’s whole concept comes from a graphic novel, not an autobiography.
A solid half of the film is dedicated to hand-on-hand or ship-on-ship combat. Some directors may try to immerse you in the confusion of it all, jumping from soldier to soldier, from stabbing to amputation, but Murro prefers to focus on one guy and follow him for quite a while. The effect is just awesome. Slice here, jab there, duck, spin, jump, sever… There is never any confusion over who hits who and how. Mixed with slow motion and highly contrasted colours, the fighting is beautiful in its repulsiveness.
And with all this fighting comes a great welcome back to 300’s Adonis-like muscles. Some may wonder why they don’t wear armour. I say they’ve got abs of steel so there’s really no point. I will, however, stand up for the practicality of helmets. In the first sequence, the helmet saves Themistocles from certain death at least three times. He then stands all noble and tall and takes the helmet off! Wh- what are you doing! Your pretty eyes can be seen just fine with the helmet on!
300: Rise of an Empire is all death and destruction in its most classic sense: no bullets, no crashing through skyscrapers, no tanker explosions, and no car chases. In all, it’s an enjoyable bloodbath with just a hint of glory and honour.