300: Rise of An Empire picks up the tale of the Persian invasion of Greece from where it left off in 300 (2007). While King Leonidas of Sparta lies dead at Thermopylae, Athenian general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) unites Greece to fend off Xerxes’s continued attack.
Largely forgoing historical surrealism, the film paints the war in predictably broad strokes: it pits the East—cruel, sensual, despotic, and with more than a touch of the irrational—against the West—free, democratic, heroic, and very obviously manly. This time, the blandly macho and bare- chested Greek men are up against the infernally beautiful Artemisia (Eva Green), commander of the Persian navy. A combination of vampiric temptress and chilly Amazonian, Artemisia is gloriously over-the-top: she kisses severed heads, smoulders darkly at scenes of carnage, and invites Themistokles to a bizarre midnight sexual negotiation which leaves everyone somewhat taken aback. Despite her excesses, there’s a hint of vulnerability to Artemisia that causes her character to remain a cipher, making her the only multidimensional and unpredictable presence in the film.
Visually, the film’s comic-book roots are evident in its intense colors and stylized depictions of violence. Just like its predecessor, there is a lot of slow-motion slashing, mostly accompanied by a profusion of body parts and streaks of blood that lyrically float across the screen. Despite such enthusiastic violence, the bloodbath gradually gets old, bogged down by haphazard storytelling and the lamentably flat characterizations of everyone other than Artemisia.
300: Rise of An Empire is heavy with uninspiring tropes about tired dichotomies: East and West, feminine and masculine. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a couple of hours of blood- soaked fun—or some reasonably attractive ancient Greeks—this film is a passable and mildly entertaining way to spend your time.