‘You’ve come a long way to stroke your cock while watching men train,’ spits not-so-merry widow Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) to the hero of this swords-and-sandals sequel. She may as well be speaking to the audience. Even lighter on story than Zack Snyder’s 2007 predecessor, with an even more imposing array of beardy-yet-waxed male specimens on display, ‘300: Rise of an Empire’ essentially cops to being an equal-opportunity droolfest: as homoerotic or empoweringly macho as you want it to be, with more women in play this time round.
Director Noam Murro is at the helm now; his first film, the smug campus comedy ‘Smart People’, was an odd training ground for this. The oppressive red-and-sepia styling of the original has been tempered a bit – manly charcoal hues are in this season, with burgundy blood now sloshed generously across the screen in 3D. Stepping in for the slain Gerard Butler is the strappingly named Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles of Athens (and, to judge by his accent, Melbourne), chosen to lead the allied Greek states in naval battle against Persia. Their fleet, in turn, is commanded by warrior queen Artemesia, played by the splendidly vampy Eva Green as a kind of Xena/Joan Crawford hybrid who lops off heads in gold lamé. It’s a pleasingly fair fight.
Storytelling is left to Headey’s wordy voiceover; it’s flesh and carnage that the audience is here to see, and Murro delivers it by the glistening ton, pausing only for stray bits of backstory. We learn how Persian god-king Xerxes came to be (short version: he took a bath and emerged as both members of Right Said Fred), while a token father-son arc serves only to give British star-in-the-making Jack O’Connell a few extra lines. It’s all extravagantly daft, moves at a fair clip and is over before you expect it to be – one suspects the actual Battle of Artemisium was rather different.