Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, the eyes always ask for more than the stomach can handle. Consumer demand may have warranted a sequel to the very popular 2006 film, upon viewing however, that decision may have been short-sighted. In the case of this latest swords and sandals blockbuster, the stomach can't handle it.
'Rise of an Empire' features the B story explaining the goings-on of Athenian politics that sent Leonidas and his 300 to battle for independence. Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) made his name in the Battle of Marathon by killing King Darius in front of his son, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), and repel the Persian army from the shores of Greece. In retrospect, Themistokles fears he may have killed the wrong man.
Distraught in his grief, Xerxes seeks to scorch Greece to ashes. His father's parting words that only a God could defeat the Greeks, so become a God he shall. As the saying goes, behind every great man is a woman, and Artemisia (Eva Green) is the pushing force behind the surprisingly bland Xerxes.
Of the extra backstories introduced, the God King's is least interesting. Rodrigo Santoro is a capable actor, but one wouldn't know it from this part. Filling in the void is Eva Green, gloriously unhinged in all manner of theatricality. Vengeful Artemisia holds grudges of her own from a traumatizing raid when she was just a girl. She now commands the Persian navy tasked with slaughtering those very same Greeks.
Faced with the chance to redeem himself, Themistokles faces down Artemisia in hopes of ending the rule of Xerxes once and forever. Unassisted by a dearth of one-liners that so often rolled off the tongue of Gerard Butler's Leonidas, Stapleton matches the physique of 300's protagonist, but he lacks the authoritative presence that immortalized "This. Is. Sparta."
Lacking in a unique visual style, 300: Rise of an Empire doubles down on gore, vulgarity and slow-motion kills, but with nothing to sustain these scenes it just becomes a chore to sit through. Even the horses are out for gore, crushing in the heads of opposing Persian armies. To make matters worse the film treats its viewers with kids gloves. Should audiences not recall the storyline, the director goes to great lengths to replay the events not only from the first 300 film, but moments that transpired just 20 minutes earlier. But, hey, who could be blamed for not remembering? These gushes of CGI-assisted blood were pretty sweet, right?
Zack Snyder's film utilized slo-mo a great deal in the 2006 film, but at moments in 'Rise of an Empire' feels like if it were played out at normal speed the film might only be 50 minutes long. Not only is it not interesting after a while, it's a bombardment on the eyes. Throw in some off-color comments that stops the movie right in its tracks and a poorly conceived attempt at Game of Thrones-type sexual conquest and there is just about nothing to recommend to this sequel.