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300 Rise of an Empire review: Eva Green shines in uninspired sequel

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Director: Noam Murro; Screenwriters: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad; Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Rodrigo Santoro, Eva Green, Jack O'Connell, Lena Headey; Running time: 102 mins; Certificate: 15


The iconic line "this is Sparta" gets a sole outing in belated sequel 300: Rise of an Empire, but it's muted and uttered almost under the breath of Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo. What's strange is that this is a rare moment of restraint in a film that goes OTT, striving so hard to outdo its predecessor yet ultimately coming up short. More violence! More action! More nudity! None of this can compensate for the dearth of emotional engagement on show in Kurt Johnstad and Zack Snyder's script.

To some the first 300 is visceral graphic novel entertainment writ large on the big screen, to others it's a visually dazzling empty vessel (this reviewer leans to the latter). How you feel about Rise of an Empire will likely depend on if you liked its predecessor, but what's hard to argue against is the fact that this follow-up lacks the memorable hero and blunt-force one-liners that marked the 2007 outing.

New director Noam Murro swings off on a narrative tangent as he tackles the Battle of Artemisium, a skirmish that happened at sea while Leonidas and the Spartans were facing down the Persians at the Hot Gates of Thermopylae.

Jack O'Connell, Sullivan Stapleton in 300: Rise of an Empire.

Naval commander Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) is the man hoping to unite Greece and fend off Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his right-hand woman Artemisia (Eva Green), bringing together Scyllias (Callum Mulvey), his son Calisto (Skins's Jack O'Connell) and Aesyklos (Hans Matheson) to engage in the blood-soaked carnage.

Murro manages to ape Snyder's fast-slow-fast-slow speed-ramping style (as if replicating the panel of a comic book) and doesn't hold back on the blood-soaked violence. The crimson flies thick and fast thanks to beheadings, skewerings and sword slashes aplenty - the blood is almost torrential, but after the umpteenth brutal death the violence begins to lose all impact. You're crying out for the film to just end but it won't, opting instead to play out more multiple near-climaxes than Return of the King.

Lena Headey, Sullivan Stapleton in 300: Rise of an Empire.
Eva Green in 300: Rise of an Empire.

Furthermore, new leading man Stapleton doesn't quite work out in the same way Butler did. The bellowing Scot's performance as Leonidas bordered on parody, but you got the sense he was aware of his film's ludicrousness and never far away from offering a sly wink to the viewer. Stapleton is far too straight-arrow serious and in the film's quieter moments displays the kind of smell-the-fart acting not seen since Joey Tribbiani's stint on Days of Our Lives.

Rise of an Empire isn't without its highlights. Most notable is Eva Green's bat-s**t mad Artemisia, a villainess who chews the scenery so emphatically that there'd be teeth marks on the sets if they weren't all digital. She also gets one of the film's best lines: "You fight harder than you f**k" - the product of a loopy power-play sex scene.

Ultimately, all this sequel can muster is some ocean-based eye candy and wall-to-wall stabbing. You're better off sticking with the original because this is essentially 300: Again.

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