The bloody epic 300 (2007) chronicled the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. when a badly outnumbered band of 300 soldiers were sent on a suicide mission to defend Sparta against a horde of over 100,000 Persian invaders. Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, that minimalist, monochromatic adventure was shot almost entirely against blue screens on assorted soundstages.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is one of those rare sequels which actually improves on an original’s formula. This relatively-expansive, higher body-count affair arrives replete with sweeping seascapes and panoramic mob scenes. It also ups the ante in terms of sensuality, especially by exploiting the visual appeal of Eva Green.
At the point of departure, we find the previous picture’s triumphant King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) plotting to lead the Persian army against forces led by Greek General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). The play-by-play is narrated by Sparta’s Queen Gorgo (Headey) who devotes considerable time to a detailed lesson in ancient history to set the table for the wanton slaughter about to ensue.
Among other things, we learn that the commander of the Persian 1,000-ship armada is the warrior goddess Artemisia (Green), a Greek traitor who turned against her own people for good reason. In her youth, she’d been brutally raped and sold into slavery after being forced to witness the murder of her entire family.
The revenge-minded orphan was freed and raised as a warrior by Xerxes’ late father, Darius (Yigal Naor). Today, she has blossomed into a ravishing fighting machine as likely to subdue an adversary with her womanly wiles as with her sword. In perhaps the movie’s most memorable moment, she decapitates a foe before planting a kissing on his skull’s lips.
Such gruesome displays are par for the course, as scene after scene seizes on any excuse for sensuality or stomach-churning depictions of torture and gore. A revisionist tale of female empowerment suggesting the fairer sex was the equal of any man even when engaged in mortal hand-to-hand combat.