‘300’ Sequel Has Plenty Of Action (And Gore)


If you really liked 300, Frank Miller’s stylish depiction of the loss of the Spartans at Thermopylae in ancient times, you probably will enjoy the new 300: Rise of an Empire. It uses the same approach to fighting and mass killing with the “advantage” of 3-D (though also presented in far fewer shows in the regular 2-D) so that heads bounding, limbs flying and blood soaking comes right at you. Since the action is almost nonstop, more than in most movies I’ve seen recently, if sword and sandal is your favorite niche in films, this one is for you.

It would be impossible to do a sequel to the original since all of the Spartans there were dead at the end. As a result, this movie’s story is essentially parallel to the first, focusing on the naval war between Athens and Persia. We get some back story on Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). After his father, Darius, is killed in a naval battle by Athenian hero Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), he listens to an oracle who says that only a god can take down Greece. He wanders through the desert and finds a pool of poison, which — after he is immersed — takes away all of his humanity and leaves him golden-skinned and 10 feet tall. He then goes out and beats Leonidas and his Spartans, the story of the first movie.

In this second movie, he sends his navy to invade southern Greece. After the wily Themistocles beats several of his top generals, he sends in his finest warrior, Artemisia (Eva Green). Born in Greece, she had been sexually enslaved for years as a little girl. She hates the Greeks and only wants to destroy them, becoming the best naval leader of the Persians. She fights a series of battles with the Athenians against Themistocles, sometimes winning, sometimes losing. The most interesting of them is when she invites him on her ship and the battle gets personal as the two manage to turn a sex scene into some incredible violence. Eventually, of course, we follow history and the Greeks win.

The movie would seem a not-great spinoff if not for Green. Stapleton is not nearly as charismatic as Gerard Butler was in the first film. Butler, of course, died there. Stapleton has some great speeches about fighting for freedom that are reminiscent of old Hollywood movies. But he still feels ordinary; a good, hardworking man who can fight brilliantly, but who is not really a leader. Santoro is far too simple as the bad guy.

But Green is superb. She manages to be the villain brilliantly, even though we know the reasons for her hatred of the Greeks. She takes over the screen every time she appears. She manages to be petulant, fervent, furious, and all while looking stunningly beautiful. Green also does very well in the battle scenes. Wearing stylish armor, she uses a two-sword fencing system to kill her enemies and look realistic doing so.

There is a nice accent of feminism in the film, a bit strange considering the focus on men. Artemisia is strong as is Queen Gorgo (Lena Headley, reprising her role from the first movie), who at first is unwilling to provide support for the Athenians but joins in to take vengeance on her husband’s killers. And, unlike in the first film, Gorgo uses a sword and uses it well. Headley also, in her limited role, gives a nicely nuanced performance, something not common among the actors in this film.

Historically, there are inaccuracies in the film. The use of oil by the Persians to set ships on fire does not come from history (the Greeks were better known for “Greek fire”), and it is doubtful that it would have been used quite like that. And, while Themistocles spent a lot of time defending freedom, more than half of Athens’ people were slaves. But the first anomaly helped make the Athenians’ situation more desperate and therefore more dramatic, and the second helped demonstrate the differences between the two civilizations. By the way, in his later years, Themistocles was exiled from Athens, fled to Persia and worked for the Persian king.

I should mention that there is a lot of blood and graphic violence in the film, and there are several scenes of nudity, usually in the middle of violence. If you have young children, leave them home.

But the movie is a great example of its genre, and action lovers will enjoy it all the way through. Keep in mind that it is great only for its genre, not a great movie. But our whole group enjoyed it.