It would be easy to write off 300: Rise of an Empire as a CGI-ab-filled gore-fest. The seven-years-later sequel to 300, on paper, seems like the typical artless March release. But it’s not that simple, thanks mostly to a gonzo performance by Eva Green that is absolutely thrilling to watch.
Our sequel actually takes place before, during and after the events of the first 300, and does feature some archival footage of original stars Gerard Butler and Michael Fassbender. Of course Rodrigo Santoro is back as King Xerxes and Lena Headey — now with a much higher profile, thanks to Game of Thrones — returns as Queen Gorgo. But, for the most part, this is a new cast that expands the universe of 300 beyond the Spartan 300 of the initial film.
Told mostly through voiceover, we get the backstory of the Persian-Greek conflict as well as an origin story for the God-King Xerxes, which introduces us to his most trusted naval advisor, Artemisia (Green). She is ruthless, calculating and, most of all, aces with a sword. Green brings more to her performance than is required of the typical graphic novel lead. Sure, she is sexy (and, yes, she takes her shirt off) but she’s also a principled, and flawed, character with a surprising amount of depth for a film of this genre. Headey’s Queen Gorgo even gets in on the action some too.
Zack Snyder, who wrote and directed the original 300, is back only as writer and producer. The relatively green Noam Murro (Smart People) takes over directing duties for the second installment. He brings the expected gushers of blood and ultra slow-mo and the film’s naval battles and hand-to-hand combat feel fresh and exciting.
The entire film spins madly (and erotically) toward a final confrontation between Artemisia and Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). But, of course, there is some openness left to the ending. And surely, pending box office results, we can expect to hear an announcement about a third 300 movie soon.
As tends to happen with based-on-the-graphic-novel films, there is a level of frustrating self-importance here and historians would likely be shocked at its interpretation of the Greco-Persian Wars. There is also some bloat, and the film’s 84-minute running time drags at times, but it is, overall, an entertaining film.