300: Rise of an Empire – Green brings the pain!

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMIs it fair to say that Zack Snyder’s film 300 in 2007 was, stylistically, a breath of fresh air? All sculpted six packs and slow-mo violence. It also introduced many of us to Gerard Butler as we’ve never seen him before. However the story by Frank Miller, whilst great in graphic novel form, came across as fairly light in terms of character on screen. Lacking depth was bandied about as a phrase by some critics.

Yet Butler gave a degree of depth to the proud Spartan King Leonidas – to the point that we cared what happened to him and his brave 300. And whilst the film was lambasted for oodles of style over a smattering of substance, it developed a cult following over time. But it was what it was: an unashamed guilty pleasure. A Friday night popcorn movie. Yet… it stuck around. Word spread. A sequel was inevitable.

This time round the story takes place a little before, during and after the events of the first film. It tackles another battle between the Greeks and Persians by focusing on the plight of a different set of Greeks, led by the Butler-esque Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton).300-rise-of-an-empire-official-trailer-2014-hd And, to avoid treading the same action beats, the setting has moved largely from land to sea, with both sides pitting their mighty navy against one another.

We also have a new antagonist in the form of Greek-turned-surrogate-Persian Artemisia (Eva Green); right-hand warrior to the Persian God-King Xerxes. Whilst there’s some other bits of plot to consider, this film isn’t really about story or character, it’s about spectacle. The relatively inexperienced Israeli director Noam Murro helms this one (with Snyder co-producing) and the result is pure concentrated Synder (more Sucker Punch less Watchmen).

So what we get is a series of set battles at sea, where Themistocles and Artemisia face off against each other. Aussie actor Stapleton is solid as the stoic leader of the plucky Greeks but, ultimately, in terms of pure entertainment, we’re here to see Green’s unhinged warrior Artemisia chew up the scenery, which she does in spectacular femme fatale fashion. R2_V10B17_80213_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0017.tiffA perfect fit for the worlds which Frank Miller creates. (We’ll be seeing her again later this year in Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For as the eponymous dame.)

Some have said this sequel offers little in terms of depth of character and that the conveyor belt of battle sequences can seem numbing. I agree in part, but we all know what we’ve signed up for; an unashamed, gory, highly stylised and violent action flick – with some tough female characters to boot. (Not just Green but Lena Headey too.)

As I said earlier, it is what it is.

But it’s not just style. There is story and character to be found if you look, some of it quite compelling. It just tends to take a back seat in favour of macho posturing and fight sequences (of which there are some impressive ones). The quieter moments, as a result, carry weight. Yet they are few and far between. Ones to savour.

Another factor which surprised me was the deft use of 3D. As a sceptic I’m the first to say it adds nothing to the experience, yet here it lent itself well to this sort of tale: all limbs, blood, swords, arrows and spears flying everywhere. Murro wanted us immersed in this ‘bucket ‘o’ blood’ nightmare and, with 3D, he achieved that.

All in all, a decent follow up to the original, with a seductive and deadly standout turn by Green that confirms her status as modern cinema’s de facto femme fatale. Roll on the next 300 film…

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