300 was hard to ignore, exhibiting stylised violence, shiny leather pants and an up-and-coming cast, including instant meme generator Gerard Butler, the once and future Magneto (Michael Fassbender) and even a queen of Westeros (Lena Headey).
It was raucous and silly, but had its own shallow charm when taken as an over-the-top campfire story.
300: Rise Of An Empire is based on Frank Miller’s as-yet-unpublished graphic novel Xerxes, explaining how he became a god-king as well as the enmity between Greece and Persia. But this is 300 – history is so far in the back seat it’s practically in the boot.
The action takes place before, during and after the Spartans’ last stand, flashing back to how the death of Xerxes’ father transformed him into the imposing despot of the first movie and where his great war machine moved next after their victory against the Spartans.
Athenian general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the Greek defence by sea, resplendent in blue like a palette-swapped Leonidas, minus the charisma.
The Persian fleet opposing him is led by vengeful commander Artemisia (Eva Green), a Greek woman with a score to settle.
She is the one pulling Xerxes’ strings, and this is more her story than his. Artemisia falls into the ‘bad-ass fantasy woman’ trap, and although Green is game, the character lacks the elegant nihilism of, say, Headey‘s performance as the mesmerising Ma-Ma in Dredd. Speaking of Lena, she does return as Queen Gorgo, but isn’t used as much as the trailer would have you believe.
The naval battles are impressive, and director Noam Murro replicates Zack Snyder’s visual style well. But something is off. Xerxes’ transformation feels uncomfortable, Artemisia and Themistocles’ sexual encounter is cringeworthy, and we’ve heard all this posturing about glory and death before.
Miller mythologised the story of the 300 Spartans, making it a tale told to rouse the troops, but repeating the formula a second time compounds the already problematic depictions of real cultures to an uncomfortable degree.
Moreover, it’s just not that entertaining.