The film 300: Rise of an Empire knows its audience - the action aficionado who likes his blood and gore served stylishly and in ample measure. It panders to their tastes and little else. And then there is Eva Green. The talented Ms Green is a pleasure to watch even when her character looks more like a caricature and less like a Greek who is a general in Persian army. That takes care of everything that's cool about this film.
To begin at the beginning, Empire is not strictly a sequel to the 2007 blockbuster 300. While that film had a band of 300 Spartans fighting the onslaught of Persians on land, the battle this time round is fought at sea by Greeks. In terms of similarities, Persian invaders are at it again and still wearing far more clothes than their enemies.
Still from 300: Return of an Empire
"Unlike the death-cult Spartans, led to war in the earlier film by Gerard Butler in a performance that unleashed a thousand meme variations, this motley crew of slightly less chiseled Greeks follows the less inspiring, or, at any rate, less shouty, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton of Gangster Squad)," writes Nicolas Rapold
of The New York Times.
What's different this time is that mortal-turned-god Xerxes -- a feat he achieved by dipping himself in gold -- has a femme fatale lieutenant, Artemisia. "Green is fun to watch - she always is - but there's a point at which the caricature becomes the career, and that point is drawing closer," writes Mick LaSalle
of San Francisco Chronicle and we can't agree more.
The film inadvertently makes its bad guy and gal far more interesting than nobler-than-thou Themistokles. Scott Bowles
of USA Today rightly points out, "While it's beautiful and bloody, Empire paints its villains - Xerxes and his lieutenant, the beautiful and deadly naval commander Artemisia - as far more interesting than their heroic Greek counterparts."
That misguided attempt at women's lib ends with a strategically placed sex scene. "…a pivotal scene in which the long, rivalrous gazes across the sea between Themistokles and Artemisia lead to their finally getting a room. In the telling aftermath, the ruthless Persian commander is more or less recast as a woman scorned, ultimately leaving Greece, and everyone's machismo, mostly intact," writes Rapold.
And now coming to the question everybody has been asking: is the sequel as good as 300? Sorry to disappoint but the answer is no. "Stunningly shot and stupidly written, 300: Rise of an Empire has all the visual style and arterial spray of its predecessor, Zack Snyder's 300. But even that stilted dialogue is Fellini-esque compared with Empire, whose wacky take on Greek history won't bother action fanatics. But for anyone looking for a sense of script (forget plausibility), Empire is a Trojan horse," writes Bowles.