300: Rise of an Empire Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey. Directed by Noam Murro. Rated R. Opens Friday.
How do you make a sequel to a movie whose entire point is that nearly all of the main characters sacrificed their lives? In the case of 300: Rise of an Empire, sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2007 surprise hit 300, you come up with an entirely new cast of characters, inserting them into the in-between moments of the earlier story. While King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, seen only in clips from the first movie) and his Spartan army of 300 are busy nobly dying against the forces of Persian King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), Athenian leader Themistocles (bland Australian hunk Sullivan Stapleton) is fighting off the Persian invasion on another front, leading his city’s fleet of ships against the superior might of the Persian navy.
Santoro has a relatively small role, leaving the part of this movie’s villain to Eva Green as Persian naval commander Artemisia, and her performance is the sole bright spot. While the movie’s overall tone is excessive in a humorless, mind-numbing way, Green goes over the top with style, sneering through her lines while dressed like a goth/BDSM version of an ancient Persian. Her mid-film sex/fight scene with Themistocles is a bizarre highlight that Green carries entirely on her own.
The rest of the movie is a lifeless imitation of Snyder’s style from the first movie, with Israeli commercials director Noam Murro taking over as director (Snyder remains on board as producer and co-writer). Murro uses the same digital sets, limited color palette, slow-motion action shots and geysers of CGI blood, but instead of coming off as a bold (if overbearing) new approach, it just ends up as a less exciting rehash of the earlier movie. So many scenes take place in the dark or under cloudy skies that it’s often difficult to make out the murky action (especially in 3D). It doesn’t help that the supporting characters are essentially interchangeable.
The repetitive, punishing action is matched by the ear-splitting score by Junkie XL, and it all becomes exhausting very quickly. With 300, Snyder found a creative new way to beat his audience into submission; Rise of an Empire pounds away without any such inspiration.