Eva Green is the only original thing about "300: Rise of an Empire." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
‘300: Rise of an Empire’ Director Noam Murro Stars: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green Rating: R 3 (out of 5) Globes
“300” committed one of the great sins of modern blockbusters: It ended with all of its main characters heroically dead. And isn’t the impossibility of film sequels the real tragedy of the Battle of Thermopylae? But just as the great, ripped, gym bunny warriors’ noble deaths inspired legions to rise against those metrosexual Persians, Zack Snyder’s film — macho and overly color-corrected, both homophobic and homoerotic — has served to pump up athletes hitting the field and bros heading out on the town. Life had to find a way.
And so it has, sort of. “300: Rise of an Empire” features 300 of nothing. It’s not a sequel but a side-sequel (we refuse to use the term “sidequel”), occasionally cutting away to the first film in progress elsewhere. Execs scrambled through their history books and picked the less storied Battle of Artemisium, between the Greeks and another, different part of the Persian army. This one’s at sea, which ideally should make for less hand-to-hand blood-letting which, along with barked “St. Crispin Day” knockoff speeches, were all the first had going for it.
But again, life finds a way, in this case by ignoring history and just redoing the first, by hook or crook. Snyder has aged into Superman pictures, but replacing director Noam Murro slavishly recreates his old style, even more than Snyder slavishly recreated Frank Miller’s dodgy comic. Our new shirtless, six pack-abbed hero is Themistocles, played by Sullivan Stapleton, an actor who, sadly, lacks the shouty gravitas of Gerard Butler.
That’s okay, though, because the one major difference from — and vast improvement over — the original is boasting a much more charismatic villain than tall, pierced, hermaphroditic and yet still dull Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). They found it in Artemisia, warrior queen, and in her portrayer, Eva Green. A refugee of both James Bond (“Casino Royale”) and Bernardo Bertolucci (“The Dreamers”), Green has always had a thing for old school vamping. Here’s the role she was born to play. Wide-eyed and hammy, her Artemesia lusts for blood the way nymphomaniacs do sex. She makes out with a freshly dislodged head, howls orgasmically as she hacks limbs and snarls her way through lines like, “You fight harder than you f—.”
“300 2” does not deserve her, and when she’s on-screen the movie doesn’t know what hit it. She’s far more compelling than the interchangably ripped heroes, and the film winds up unsure who it’s rooting for. All it can do is satiate its fans. By contrast, the first “300” was made by tasteful aesthetes. Even more than did Snyder, Murro knows his audience desires 3-D boobs in the second minute, blood splattering onto their glasses and screamed aphorisms — “Fear is freedom!” — whose logic disintegrates the second after they’re bellowed. It’s so up front about placating fanboys that its honesty becomes, in a twisted, messed-up sense, admirable.