The movie "300" was an unexpected hit when it stormed into theaters in 2007. Audiences loved the film's hyper-stylized action sequences married with cool visual images that made it feel like it was lifted directly from a graphic novel.
The fact that the film also featured an army of extremely fit (and generally half-naked) Spartan warriors only added to its appeal.
The sequel finally arrives in theaters this weekend, and it is consciously designed to look and feel a lot like the original film. It features the same visual style, the same cast of Adonis warriors and the same sense of noble heroics to drive the story. The difference this time around is that the battle sequences have moved to the sea and that women have been invited to join in the fun.
Well, one woman, anyway. Eva Green plays the film's villain, Artemesia, and she's so deliciously evil that she steals the show. Sure, there are still plenty of buff men for audiences to drool over, but Green is the one who makes the story pop.
Not that the story is all that critical to your enjoyment of the film.
This story runs concurrently with the plot of the original "300." While Leonidas was off fighting Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), fellow Greek super-warrior, Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) is tasked with repelling the Persian fleet. That's no easy task because it's commanded by Artemesia. She is as ruthless and cunning as any warrior king, and she wears much cooler outfits when she heads off to war.
After a 30-minute prologue that sets up the world the movie quickly moves into a non-stop mix of naval battles and sword fights. Those action sequences are still very cool to watch. The desaturated cinematography makes all of the warriors look like their sculpted out of marble. It also makes the blood seem extra vibrant as it splashes across the screen with 3D bravura.
The problem with "300: Rise of an Empire" is that the hero isn't very compelling. It difficult to believe that men would follow Themistokles into battle, it's even harder to believe that he could ever hope to match wits with Artemesia.
It's difficult to truly cheer on the hero when the villain is so appealing. That means that while "300: Rise of an Empire" is still a visually stunning action spectacle, it doesn't carry much weight because the central character is so mediocre.
Now if only they'd made an entire movie about Artemesia…
2 ½ Stars
Movie reviews by Sean, "The Movie Guy," are published bi-weekly in "The Port Arthur News" and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org