Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300 imbued the Battle of Thermopylae with unrelenting slow-motion violence and a children’s-book grasp of classical international politics. Against laughably exoticized Persians, muscled Spartan warriors fought hard, pressing close against their fellow men, pushing faster and harder, only to come to a sweaty, exhausted end.
Few films require a sequel less than this oiled-skin-deep epic; still, for those seeking concurrent slow-motion violence in Salamis, their day’s here. But they might find that the shine is off 300: Rise of an Empire, based on Miller’s unpublished sequel, whose most acrobatic battle is its struggle to fit its predecessor. Beyond resurrecting the familiar determined general, loyal lieutenant, father-son study in hereditary masculinity and 3D bloodshed by the bucketful that splatters the camera with abandon, the movie spends the bulk of its energy weaving a decade of Athenian backstory through Sparta as secret-history groundwork for a movie of naval battles held elsewhere.
This means the requisite voiceover, hitting near-audiobook saturation, comes courtesy of Lena Headey, skating well above her material. She’s joined by Eva Green as Artemisia, commander of the Persian navy, her biography replaced by rape, presumably meeting some Miller quota. A marginally more human antagonist than Xerxes—she’d have to be—Green does what she can with what she’s given, and her intensity brings deceptive gravity to a character whose tactical skills generally involve glowering intensely, the better to highlight the bravery of Themistokles, played by Sullivan Stapleton, his Australian accent suggesting he’s from the extreme south of Greece.
Director Noam Murro makes the most of glassy CGI waters and the matching stares of Green and Stapleton, but the movie scuttles their mutual antagonism, settling for a handful of touchstone scenes in a whole that’s almost a dutiful copy of 300—and as aggressively unremarkable.
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