This is a visually-stunning film. With the power, energy, warmth and light of a Caravaggio and the nightmarish vision of Hieronymus Bosch echoing the horror of Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, 300: Rise of an Empire grabs eyeballs and keeps it. Lest you think the film is all high art and surrealism, all the men are bare-chested and flaunt six packs. They also use a lot of modern swear words. There is a god king wearing some involved golden underwear, piercings, eyeliner and not much more. There is a super-hot babe with smoky eyes. Homo-erotic flourishes are not meant to be ignored. And there is portentous, pretentious voiceover for a patina of pseudo historicity.
300: Rise of an Empire is a kind of sequel to Zack Snyder’s 300 (2007), which was based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel on the battle of Thermopylae, the Spartan king Leonides’ famous last stand against Xerxes 1 of Persia.
Rise of an Empire is a kind of sequel because the events of both the movies happen concurrently. The battle of Thermopylae and Artemisium were fought during the second Persian invasion between 480 and 479 BC. Rise of an Empire is based on Miller’s as yet incomplete graphic novel, Xerxes.
The movie begins with the battle of Marathon. Before it was a run, Marathon was a battlefield — there is a story behind the run and place, which we shall not go into now. During the battle, Greek warrior Themistocles kills the Persian king Darius. That act makes Themistocles a legend. Ten years later, Darius’ commander, the beautiful and vengeful Artemisia organises the transformation of Xerxes into a god — enter gold underwear and some heavy duty bondage accessories — no one said anything about historical accuracy now, did they?
Though Artemisia is Greek she has sworn vengeance as some horrid Greeks slaughtered her village, raping and murdering her family. After years of abuse on a Greek slave ship Artemisia was left for dead in Persia where she was rescued and trained by the best soldiers to rise to become Darius’ most trusted commander.
She tells Xerxes he should avenge his father’s death. Xerxes goes to fight Leonides in Thermopylae, while she fights Themistocles in a naval battle in Artemisium. The battle sequences are gory, with blood staining the frames a thick, viscous red. Since Gerard Butler didn’t want to reprise his role as Leonides (he said it was not his thing apparently), his character was written out. More is the pity.
There are two things that work in the movie. Eva Green is gobsmacking as Artemisia. She is sexy and smouldering and more than a little crazy as the hot blooded Artemisia thirsting for vengeance. The other thing that works is Ozzy screaming “Evil minds that plot destruction/Sorcerers of death's construction” from Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’ as the credits rolled.
Those two and the spectacular look made the 103-minute orgy of blood and carnage worthwhile.
Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey, Hans Matheson, Rodrigo Santoro
Director: Noam Murro
Storyline: Themistocles and Artemisia face off in the battle of Artemisium
Bottomline: Glory in gore