After the unexpected success of “300,” filmmakers were poised with the impossibility of making a sequel when all the main characters were dead. However, this problem was solved with Frank Miller producing a companion story in “Xerxes,” and opening another door to the writers.
“300: Rise of an Empire” is not so much a sequel as a companion piece. Depicting the Battle of Salamis, which was the naval battle between the Athenians and the Persians, and the events leading up to it. Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), the general whose defeat of King Darius precipitated Xerxes transformation into the god-king, prepares to face down the massive Persian fleet and their general, the bloodthirsty Artemisia (Eva Green). This is occurring concurrently with the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartans against Xerxes.
Where Gerard Butlers’ Leonidas was the scene-stealer in “300,” here it belongs to Eva Greens’ Artemisia. Green commits to the role, and what script was actual written dialogue, and delivers something that fits the camp of the film and above. Artemisia is vengeful, bloodthirsty, but uses both her feminine wiles and her fearsome battle skills to keep the rest of the male characters in line. Compared to this, Stapleton’s’ Themistocles is a bland prop for Green to play against. It is due to this that by the end of the movie, you just might be rooting for this villain, with a majorly fierce wardrobe.
In terms of connection to the previous film, we finally have an explanation for how Xerxes came to his current state. After enduring severe trials to become a deity, Xerxes transformation is shown to be at the manipulations of Artemisia, as well as his advancements in the invasion of Greece.
The script is fairly non-existent, alternating between lengthy dialogues to more lengthy, wordless battle scenes. The red is in no short supply as thousands are slaughtered in the course of the battle, and the liberal use of the slow motion devices that made the first film so different are just old hat at this point.
The R-rating was earned with the violence and the sex scene. Regarding this, expect to stifle laughter during this particularly cringe-worthy scene, as the two rivals couple, going for animalistic, but instead just come off as caricature.
“300: Rise of an Empire” also features the return of Lena Headey as Spartan Queen Gorgo, whose exposition connects the opening of the film to the climactic battle, and Rodrigo Santoro as the god-king Xerxes, whose background is filled in for audiences witnessing the Persians machinations.
The film lands firmly at a C grade. It does nothing to improve upon its predecessor, copies nearly all the production devices of “300,” and whose only saving grace comes in the form of Eva Greens’ Artemisia and her sheer scene eating performance. “300: Rise of an Empire” is rated R for a sex scene, bloody violence, nudity and some language.