Within the opening minutes of 300: Rise of an Empire, there is an over the top, overly choreographed battle sequence, some incredibly random nudity, and a horse stomping a Persian's brains into mush with blood subsequently spraying everywhere in slow-motion. Most crucially, it's a message loud and clear that director Noah Murro has a firm grasp on what made Zack Snyder's cult hit so special. It may not top the original, but it's certainly one hell of a ride. Serving as both a prequel and sequel to the original, Rise of an Empire runs parallel to the events of King Leonidas' defiantly, courageously fought demise along with his Spartan army - at the battle of Thermopylae to Persian leader, God-king Xerxes. The very first shot of Rise of an Empire displays one more glimpse of the aftermath, as Xerxes puts the final touches on an already deceased Leonidas. As far as characters go, Rise of an Empire had some big shoes to fill. And where Gerard Butler is lost, Eva Green's crowd-pleasing portrayal of Artemisia is gained. Ferocious is the only word to describe Xerxes' toughest and most reliable ally, as Eva Green undoubtedly upstages everyone with pure insanity - and clearly relishes in the opportunity to do so - in her quest to annihilate the series new hero, Athenian general Themistocles. Legend goes that Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is responsible for the death of Xerxes' father, and in typical absurd fashion. Themistocles also made a grave mistake that night by not murdering Xerxes along with him. Knowing that only a God can rain havoc on Athens and fully take revenge, Xerxes is convinced by Artemisia to wander the desert as part of a ritual, and comes across a poisoned body of liquid in a cave that fills his conscience with pure evil, amongst transforming him into the 10 feet tall bronze tinted God he is depicted as in the franchise. Despite the origin story - along with a very brief one for Artemisia that's straight and to the point - graphic violence is once again the key to success. Murro also realizes it's best to shake up the scenery and combat grounds, which leads to epic in scope naval battles rather than the mountains and cliff environments seen in the original. In addition to affecting the structure of the battle sequences, the decision also puts a twist on the visual style of the film. Whereas the original had a very brownish and almost colorless feel to it, Rise of an Empire has environments predominantly imbued with a dark blue. Aside from being a decision that fits the theme of naval battles, it also succeeds in making the art direction a lot more visually appealing than its predecessor. Realistically however, even with a drastic battleground change and new colors, the action on display is still unapologetically 300. Each and every battle sequence has a pleasant amount of length to it, and simply goes on and on with swords hacking off limbs, gallons of blood flying at the audience in slow-motion, and so much agile choreography the fighting may as well be ballet. In that regard, Rise of an Empire nails the primary goal of delivering more of the satisfyingly bloody violence that popularized 300. It also has its own unique ideas, such as the Greek strategy of ramming Persian ships in the middle, which is where they're most weak. The sights a tactic like that can create are absolutely chaotic as well; let's just say it's pretty hilarious watching goons operating an enemy ship from below deck, getting swept up in a maelstrom of the Aegean Sea. Unfortunately however, Rise of an Empire does suffer from a sense of familiarity, along with a helping of repetitiveness throughout its second act. As previously mentioned, it's just the 300 formula but tweaked into The Aegean sea, which starts off fascinating but quickly begins to lose its steam. It also doesn't help that Sullivan Stapleton cannot portray Themistocles with even a fraction of the amount of charisma Gerard Butler gave to his career launching role in King Leonidas. If not for Eva Green and her captivatingly insane portrayal of Artemisia, Rise of an Empire would be a failure as a sequel. For some perspective, Eva Green somehow takes a sex scene and flips it on its head into one of the most bizarre and engaging moments not just in sex scenes, but movies period. The icing on the cake is that the scene in question actually brilliantly ties into the plot, but to say anymore would result in spoiling something that just needs to be seen to be believed. On top of that, Eva Green probably kicks more a** than any character in the franchise, and surprisingly never once looks ridiculous in action. A female warrior in the 300 universe could have easily failed in its execution, but Artemisia has shockingly turned out to be strong, smart, psychotic, endlessly entertaining, and the best thing about the entire movie. Rise of an Empire isn't going to make new fans of those that saw its predecessor as nothing more than juvenile and sophomoric action; it's simply a second serving of something audiences fell in love with. And even though it fails to live up to the original settling for some minor tweaks to the formula, - it's undeniably fun to watch. Regardless, any action film aficionado should watch the film for Eva Green's Artemisia alone. 300: Rise of an Empire is playing in cinemas now.
I write for WhatCulture (duh) and MammothCinema. Born with Muscular Dystrophy Type 2; lover of film, games, wrestling, and TV. You can follow me on Twitter @Solid_Fantasy or friend me on FB @ https://www.facebook.com/SolidFantasy