Here’s a new term: this movie is neither a sequel nor a prequel to 300, the story of the 300 Spartans who died battling the vastly greater army of the Persians. This is a “side-quel,” a “meanwhile” story about what was going on in a sea battle led by Spartan’s rivals, the Athenians. While “300” was based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, itself based on historic events in ancient Greece, this side-quel was written at the same time as Miller’s still-uncompleted follow-up, to be called “Xerxes.”
We get a bit more backstory this time, too. In a previous battle, Athens’ great warrior Themistokles (hunky Sullivan Stapleton) killed the Persian king. His furious son, Xerxes (returning Rodrigo Santoro) traded his humanity for godlike powers to get his revenge by invading Greece. The leader of the Persian forces is the even-more-furious Artemisia (Eva Green), who can kiss the lips on the head she has just severed, enjoying the kiss just slightly less than the kill. She is tougher than any of her generals, more lethal than any of her soldiers, and even hungrier for inflicting desolation on Greece than her king. And she has the kind of fearlessness only found in those who have nothing left to lose and who will never win enough to feel that they have succeeded.
Themistokles needs to get the support of the resolutely independent city-states if they are to hold off the far greater Persian forces. He knows that his men have heart and dedication, but they are not trained warriors like the Spartans. I could say more about the story, but let’s face it — like the first film, this is about abs, swords, and lots of blood spurting in artistic slo-mo, drenching the screen.
The primary differences are the absence of Gerard Butler and the shift from battles on land to battles on water. We feel Butler’s loss, as he brought a bit more to the original in terms of acting and managed to give his character some depth and personality in the midst of the carnage. But that works for the story, as the death of his character Leonidas is felt deeply in Sparta. The only thing that stands out from the carnage, though, is Green, whose Artemisia cranks up the cray-cray as one of the most evil-relishing villainesses since Cruella De Vil. There’s a sizzling sex-and-fight scene (hmmm, Green did something very similar in “Dark Shadows“) that is way over the top of whatever point over the top used to be. Green has a blast striding around casting laser beams of hatred at everyone, and wipes everyone else in the cast off the screen more thoroughly than her character does to to the “farmers, sculptors, and poets”-turned soldiers of Athens.
Parents should know that this film has constant very intense, graphic, and bloody violence with many battles, swords, fire, drowning, executions, rapes, disturbing images, nudity, sexual references and situations, and some strong language.
Family discussion: What are the biggest differences between the Greeks and the Persians? Do we think about war differently today?
If you like this, try: “300” and “Gladiator”