The Persians led by the “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) have invaded Greece with a huge army. The defending Athenian and Spartan warriors have spent a worrying amount of time shaving their body hair. Yes it’s the sequel to 300, there are more greased hairless gym-pumped chests but where 300 could be described as homoerotic this is just cheesy gay porn.
The original film was an enjoyable mish-mash of testosterone, slow-motion action sequences and set pieces that became internet memes (“This is Sparta, Hear me roar!” etc). It even spawned the the spoof film Meet The Spartans (2008). Rise of an Empire isn’t exactly a a prequel or a sequel though. It’s more an ‘equal’ – since events take place both before, after and at the same time as the original 300. Instead of Spartans however, this time the focus is on the Athenians and instead of land battles, all the battles are at sea.
By their nature boats aren’t very manoeuvrable, so things have to be spiced up with them ramming each other with precision strikes, suicide bomber attacks and the much larger Persian navy being led into obvious traps by the Greeks. The leader of the Athenians, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) even somehow manages to ride a horse into battle while at sea – which is impressive.
The chief enemy this time is not Xerxes but the Persian naval commander and master swordswoman Artemisia (Eva Green): “Her beauty is only matched by her devotion to her king” according to the very cheesy voiceover. There is a strange, aggressive and almost at-a-distance sex scene between her and Themistocles which presumably is to provide counterbalance to all the man-on-man action going on elsewhere. There are Spartans are in this film but they are now led by the annoyingly over-earnest Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey). Equally annoying are the over-the-top blood spurts that seem to issue forth every time a sword even partially strikes home. I presume these were added for the 3D effect in movie theaters but they often give the impression that you are watching a video game.
Hopefully the next film will be back with (non-irritating) Spartans and set on land. Over the top, historically dubious, cheesy, often over-earnest and not as fun or enjoyable as 300. 5/10