Director: Noam Murro
300: Rise Of An Empire attempts to contextualise the first film in its wider world. With the story taking place before, during and after the events of 300, the film shifts its focus from Sparta to Athens. With the Persian god-king Xerxes (Santoro) and his ruthless general Artemisia (Green) advancing on Greece, Thermistocles (Stapleton) tries to convince the Spartans to join with the other Greeks to fight against the invaders, but they refuse, preferring to fight with them alone. The Athenians launch into naval battle with the Persians, attempting halt them at sea, even though their naval forces vastly outweigh their own, while Thermistocles and Artemisia come face to face in a battle of wits against each other.
In general, the characters are a little flat though. Thermistocles lacks the gruff wallop of Gerard Butler's Leonidas and Sullivan Stapleton (well quite, I've not head of him either) is a poor and weaker cousin. The rest of the assembled warriors make little or no impact at all, with maybe the slight exception of Jack O'Connell, whose youthful exuberance provides a useful counterpoint to the almost weary experience of the Athenians. Headey, Wenham and Santoro all resume their roles from the first film, providing nothing more or less than they had before, but the only real striking addition to the cast is the sensationally evil Eva Green. Every time I see her on screen I wonder why she hasn't had more of a career than she's had and it saddens me that she's condemned to play the villain in a sub-standard studio cash-in sequel. However, that being said, she burns like the greatest of movie stars here, oozing the with malevolence and commanding every moment that she's on screen, as fascinating to watch as if Angelina Jolie had played the part. Her smouldering and intense eyes command as much fear of Artemisia as the rest of Xerxes' army combined and her manipulations amongst the other generals provide the Greeks with the worthy adversary that perhaps the first film slightly lacked. Instead of just feeling like the forces are battling against an all-powerful, golden and mammoth jin, this is a fallible but ruthless human being. Because the Greeks seem more human than the Spartans, Artemisia feels more human than Xerxes and that, at least, works.
Time will tell whether the franchise will continue, but I hope this doesn't turn into desperate clutching at straws, making more and more films out of what is essentially the driest part of classical history. I'd love this treatment to be turned to other areas of Greek history, but if they're insistent on having them tie together like this, I'm afraid we might be in for a franchise that makes you forget that the original was actually quite good. But, all this being said, the teenage girl in me, who was excited about the prospect of watching 100 minutes of men in pants, was extremely satisfied indeed.