Another 300 movie was originally very exciting to me. 300: Rise of an Empire was not really going to be a sequel, but set around the same time and events of the first film. In fact, the movie is narrated by Queen Gorgo (played again by Lena Headey, borrowing from her own portrayal of Queen Cersei from Game of Thrones) and they repeatedly mention King Leonidas and his 300 buddies making a stand at the Hot Gates. While that skirmish was taking place, a larger battle was occurring on the Aegean Sea between the Persian navy and the Greek fleet. Themistocles (played by newcomer Sullivan Stapleton) leads the Greeks in battle against ex-patriot commander, Artemisia (played by Eva Green, with her typical ferocity). The story is a bit confusing because you have to first fit it into the timeline of the first film (because the plot doesn’t really follow a clear path of its own) and then make sure you understand which scenes are flashbacks (so you don’t include them in the story’s main timeline). As well, there was not as clear a sense of battle planning and strategy as in the first movie. For the most part it seems like both sides are just trying stuff: a few tricks up their sleeves to win the day. As a result, the movie’s momentum doesn’t build up smoothly. As you might expect, the style is similar to the first movie: everything looks great, and the epic slo-mo is more common than before. The sky is still a sun-striped storm in full boil, while blood juicily gushes from even the smallest of wounds. (I don’t remember the first one being nearly so blood-drenched. I think this is the influence of TV’s Spartacus which came after 300 and bathed the viewer’s eyes in sprays of red). Stapleton is serviceable as an action lead, but his character is supposed to be a political leader and one who brings Greece together to fight the Persians. I had a hard time buying that from Stapleton. As I mentioned, Green’s Artemisia is incredibly strong and brutal. There’s also a sexual overtone to most things she says or does. This kind of character is totally in Green’s wheelhouse and she hams it up wonderfully. On the other hand, Rodrigo Santoro reprises his role (if you can call it that) of Persia’s divine ruler, Xerxes. He barely manages to get through his meager lines. Even though this was probably conceived as a companion piece to the first 300, it ended up being more of a pale reflection. The ‘naval’ battle was really more about ramming ships into each other an then boarding them and having melee combat again. It’s like a wetter land battle (but may have even less excitement and thrill). Also, there’s another father-son combo (like Michael Fassbender and Vincent Regan in the previous film) where the son can’t wait to fight but his father doesn’t want him to. As excited as I was to see this epic story revisited in a second film, it really needed to stand up on its own with more substance rather than style (3.5 out of 5).