‘300’ excessive, absurd — and memorable

Contributing writerMarch 7, 2014 

“300: Rise of an Empire” tells a parallel tale from 480 B.C. —and the first “300” — of the Athenian navy under the command of the general Themistokles, played by Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton.

WARNER BROS. PICTURES

You want spectacle? By Zeus, “300: Rise of an Empire” will give you spectacle. All you can handle, and more besides.

The picture is packed with vertiginous vistas of heaving seas and roiling storm clouds and landscapes of carnage and mayhem and blood. Above all, blood, gushing and geysering.

All of it — seas and skies, guts and gore — is digitally rendered and therefore highly stylized as writer-producer Zack Snyder and director Noam Murro seek to expand upon and outdo what Snyder achieved in his breakout 2006 blockbuster “300.”

These guys would never settle for the wussy, relatively gore-free PG-13 swordplay of “The Legend of Hercules” and “Pompeii,” this year’s earlier sword-and-sandal wannabe epics. “Rise of an Empire” goes all out in every respect. It’s outrageously and unapologetically excessive in its R-rated violence, and achingly awful in the florid bombast of its dialogue. Sample line: “Today we will dance across the backs of dead Greeks. Today we deliver submission!”

Inspired, as was “300,” by a graphic novel by Frank Miller, “Empire” takes place in 480 B.C., the same time as the events in “300,” when Sparta’s King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his well-muscled band of 300 warriors were wiped out by Persian hordes. There is only slight overlap between “Empire” and “300” as Butler didn’t want to do the sequel. He appears only briefly in scenes lifted from “300,” and actors from the first picture — Rodrigo Santoro as the Persian god-king Xerxes and Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”) as Spartan Queen Gorgo — are very much secondary players this time around.

“Empire” tells the parallel tale of the Athenian navy under the command of the general Themistokles (usually spelled Themistocles), played with rough-hewn authority by Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton. Themistokles does battle with the vastly more powerful Persian fleet commanded by Artemisia, a female fighter performed with incredible ferocity by Eva Green. So fierce is Green in the role — she lops off a man’s head and then plants a great big smooch on the head’s dead lips — that she’s able to spit out the most ridiculous speeches with such overpowering forcefulness that they almost don’t seem ridiculous at all. Almost.

“Rise of an Empire” is not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s impressive in its singleminded dedication to creating a moviegoing experience that will totally engulf its audience. It’s absurd but undeniably memorable. ‘300: Rise of an Empire’

* * *

Cast: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey and Rodrigo Santoro

Director: Noam Murro

Running time: 1:42

Rated: R; strong sustained sequences of stylized bloody violence throughout, a sex scene, nudity and some language.

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