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Movie review: ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ is as fun as the original

Published: Thursday, March 6, 2014 11:34 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Associated Press photo)
Lena Headey in "300: Rise of an Empire."

Naysayers always ask the same question: Why would they make a sequel to something like “300?”

The answer is always the same: Because “300” took in a cache of cash – something like half a billion dollars worldwide. It’s even, according to the folks at IMAX, the film that turned a certain corner for that company, that brought fanboys aboard as IMAX viewers.

Sure, it was in many respects a video game version of a big-screen movie, with violence and accompanying blood galore. But it was also very stylized, was endlessly fascinating to watch, and it featured contemporary themes of diplomacy versus war.

So here we are, just about seven years, to the day, since the release of “300,” with, nope, not a sequel, but another side of the same story, one that unfolds in a parallel manner.

“300” told of 300 members of the Greek Spartan army, under the command of King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), going up against the seemingly insurmountable hordes of the Persian army in the land-based Battle of Thermopylae. Although “300: Rise of an Empire” opens with the results of that glorious fight, it eventually turns into a chronicle of the Greek Athenian army, under the command of General Themistocles (Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton), also going up against the Persians, but doing so out on the ocean, at the same time.

The film offers up brief introductions of the main players at the beginning, including Leonidas’ grieving but incredibly tough widow Queen Gorgo (“Games of Thrones’ ” Lena Headey), Persian leader-turned-golden god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and native Greek-turned-angry, vengeful Persian Artemisia (former Bond girl Eva Green).

There are all kinds of political and good-versus-evil machinations set in place, and then that stylized bloodbath begins. The film’s main palette consists of sepia and gray, but there hasn’t been this much burgundy-colored blood splattering across the screen (and sometimes onto camera lenses) since, well, since “300.”

There’s also the emotional, rather than physical, black and white to deal with. It’s very easy to figure out who’s good and who’s bad. Broadly speaking, the Greeks are good, and the Persians are bad.

Getting down to specifics, General Themistocles is the hero, and the Goth-like Artemisia is the villain. You don’t have to think twice about her: Early on she decapitates one of her foes, then grabs his head and kisses it. No doubt, she’s the bad gal!

We eventually get her back story, telling us why and how she became what she is, and that story makes plenty of sense. But it’s more fun to watch her parade around in cool outfits that are complemented by an ever-present scowl, just waiting for her to make another panther-like move.

Of course, that’s mostly for the guys in the audience. But the women watching will be treated to lots of beefy guys walking around shirtless, wearing little leather skirts. There’s also a treat for men AND women to enjoy: a cartoonishly furious sex scene, accompanied by pounding percussion on the soundtrack, in which the two athletic participants are making more noise than all of those drums.

For the fanboys among us, there are spectacular visual effects, especially out at sea, where spears are flying, ships are ramming and waves are roiling.

The film’s makers have gone out of their way to get across points about both the glory and the futility of war.

But they go about it by making sure they’ve put together the most violent movie of the year so far. Oddly, it’s also a whole lot of fun.

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