ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Following the events that took place in 300, Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is determined to unite all of Greece to prepare for the oncoming invasion of the Persian army led by mortal-turned-scantily clad god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his naval admiral Artemisia (Eva Green). This isn’t an easy task for Themistokles, as it requires him to unite two rivals: his people in Athens and the Spartans led by King Leonidas and his wife Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey).

With Xerxes bent on avenging the death of his father at the hands of Themistokles, and the Grecians vowing to avenge the deaths of the 300 Spartans, slain by Xerxes and his men, it’ll be all-out war.

Released in 2007, 300 was an action-packed, visual spectacle led by Zack Snyder’s stylishly bloody direction and a charismatic performance from Gerard Butler as Leonidas. Seven years later, we get 300: Rise of an Empire (based on the unpublished graphic novel Xerxes by Frank Miller). It’s not strictly a sequel, as we get a mini-prequel surrounding Xerxes’s origins as well as parallel events set during the first film from Themistokle’s perspective. Obviously, we don’t get Butler this time around (aside from archival footage) and Zack Snyder, who co-wrote and directed the first film, steps down as just a co-writer and producer.

Still, this film didn’t disappoint. Sure, I get it. “But Gerard Butler’s not in it!” Butler was great as Leonidas and had a way of delivering even the cheesiest of his lines with bloodthirsty flare, but now Xerxes is dangling his detached head in front of the Persians, so I guess we have no choice but to move on and accept Sullivan Stapleton as the next Grecian hero. Stapleton lacks the excitement Butler brought with his “I’m gonna shout every other line and make it work” performance, but it’s a different character and he brought a more restrained approached that, aside from a few moments where he appears a bit overshadowed, I felt was solid.

He’s acting magnificence compared to Kellan Lutz though.

Who makes this film is none other than the fetching Eva Green (most will probably recognize her as the Bond girl from Casino Royale). As the central antagonist Artemisia, Green dives head first into this character and gnaws the scenery to pieces. She’s the type of girl that struts around her soldiers as if she knows damn well she’s a man among boys, yet she’s also not afraid to bare her womanly assets to get her way against the other side. Move over Alex Forrest. There’s a new crazy sex-manipulator in town. Her origin story also makes her the most complex of all the characters. Born in Greece, but abused by her fellow countrymen, Artemisia is rescued by the Persians and ultimately turns her back on her homeland, vowing to destroy it. She may be the villain, but she has her reasons, and when you see Xerxes’s origins, you’ll soon realize she may be pulling the strings more than you think.

She also gets the best line in the entire film. Find out for yourself. You’ll know it when you hear it.

Along for the ride, we also get Lena Headey, in a few scenes, reprising her role as Queen Gorgo of Sparta. She provides the film’s slightly jumbled but still overall effective narration, and shows she can wield a sword as good as the rest of them. Rodrigo Santoro also pops up again as King Xerxes – deep voice, bald head, bitchin’ tan, gold-plated S&M outfit and all.

Taking over the reigns for Zack Snyder is Noam Murro, who’s probably best known for films nowhere near in style to 300 such as Smart People. Murro and his crew bring the same visual style, costumes and slow-motion breakdowns we saw from the first film (still having Zack Snyder by his side as producer and co-writer didn’t hurt), which is really only a flaw in that we’ve seen it before. Regardless of the “been there, done that” factor, you can’t really punish this film for utilizing the same visuals and techniques. This is still a 300 film after all, and all you need to know is if it delivers what it promises, which it does.

That, and after you see just how horribly Renny Harlin and Co. dropped the ball on The Legend of Hercules, every facet here is an instant upgrade.

Of course, there’s the question of whether this film is really necessary, and the “wow” factor isn’t as present here as it was with its predecessor. Necessary or not, 300: Rise of an Empire is still a bloody good time thanks to all the wild fights and kills Noam Murro’s solid direction and a wickedly entertaining performance from Eva Green. To those expecting, once again, a sound, historically accurate depiction of ancient Greece, you may find yourself extremely let down, but if you’re looking to see how many different ways Greeks and Persians can lose about a gallons-worth of blood, you might have a good time.

I give 300:Rise of an Empire a B+ (★★★).

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