Susan Granger's review of '300: Rise of an Empire'
Told in the same distinctive visual style as Zack Snyder's "300," this contiguous saga pits Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) against attacking Persian forces, ruled by glistening God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), son/heir to King Darius, and led by his naval commander, cunning and vengeful Artemisia (Eva Green). The timeline is confusing since this occurs during and after the fall of Spartan King Leonidas at Thermopylae.
As the Athenian politician who earnestly believes in democracy, Themistocles attempts to unite the disparate Greek city-states to fight together against the Persian invaders, but he runs into major opposition from Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), who serves as storyteller.
Scripted by Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, based on the graphic novel "Xerxes" by Frank Miller, it's vividly directed by Noam Murro and photographed by Simon Duggan with excessive amounts of blood splattering in slow motion. According to Hellenistic historian Herodotus, Xerxes and Artemesia existed but his origin story and the details of their relationship have been fictionalized, along with Artemesia's sex-and-violence interlude with Themistocles aboard her barge.
While Australian actor Stapleton ("Animal Kingdom") propels the plot, Green ("Casino Royale") steals the show with her sensuous, ferociously villainous portrayal. Credit goes to stunt coordinator/second-unit director Damon Caro for the intricate sword play and epic, bare-chested, hand-to-hand combat sequences, and nods to VFX supervisor Richard Hollander and Bryan Hirota at Scanline for the roiling, hyper-stylized Aegean Sea.
FYI: The physical sets -- including segments of Greek wooden triremes and the black-clad Persian warships -- were constructed on soundstages at Nu Boyana Studio, just outside of Sofia, Bulgaria. Scenes where the actors had to go into the water were filmed in tanks in London at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden. And every set, both interior and exterior, was surrounded by blue or green screens, which would later be transformed into views of ancient Greece or Persia.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "300: Rise of an Empire" is a stylized 6, an action fantasy filled with brutal naval battles and brimming with excessive grisly gore.