Blood, spears, dismembered heads, ocean spray, dirt, splintered wood, embers, mud, and what I can only guess is some sort of pixie dust are just a few of the items that come hurling at your head in 3D throughout the course of 300: Rise of an Empire.
Anyone who is expecting equal amounts of plot, character development, and restraint, too… well, come on. Really?
The follow-up to 2006’s juggernaut 300 isn’t a sequel; the two movies are actually set concurrent with each other, and they’re identical in style and gore factor. Zach Snyder (Sucker Punch), who directed the original, is credited as co-screenwriter and producer here, having turned over the reins to Noam Murro (Smart People), but make no mistake– Snyder’s hyper-stylized approach is all over this thing.
From the ultra-violence (when time stops at the moment of bloody impact, then speeds up again until the next grisly bit, when it then stops again… lather, rinse, repeat) to the gravity- and physics-defying parts (when men jump off a fifty-foot cliff, fillet an enemy mid-air, and then land safely on their feet), Rise of an Empire is a comic book (and sometimes comical) retelling of what vaguely resembles history. There was a real-life King Leonidas, Xerxes, and city-state of Sparta, after all.
This go-round, we get the story of Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), an Athenian hero who killed the Persian king Darius at Marathon, only to raise the ire of Darius’ commander Artemisia (Eva Green). Themistokles and Artemisia then proceed to spend the better part of Rise of the Empire battling each other at sea (except for when they’re having a bizarrely out-of-nowhere bit of sex on board her barge).
Give Murro some props– the fight choreography is wild, and his use of digital technology is often stunning (especially when you consider the fact that the entire movie was shot on a dry sound stage; the sea was added later). But the ridiculous, cheese-ball script and hammy acting can’t help make this anything more than a testosterone-y bloodbath. (Seriously, throw a brick into a pickle barrel full of red corn syrup– that’s the effect you get with every single stab and slice.)
Green, for her part, is deliciously evil and seems to be the only character here with any semblance of a pulse. Yes, Stapleton can rattle off Henry V-style speeches with the best of them, but in the end, he’s just too generic to care about. About halfway though, I actually started rooting for Artemisia.