In 300: Rise of an Empire the Greeks and Persians are at it again. Last time, the Spartans fought Xerxes at the “hot gates” (literal meaning of Thermopylae.) Here Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) stays back – though still bangled, butch and bicep’d – while his navy at Salamis is commanded by Artemisia. Eva Green plays the war heroine mean, sultry and slinking, like a gone-exotic Charlotte Rampling, as her Persian ships charge like gangbusters at the Greek fleet helmed by Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton, gamely trying to fill the boots of Gerard Butler’s missed Leonidas).
In the first 300, director Zack Snyder found the perfect film language for Frank Miller’s graphic novel: a balletically exploding comic-book style. The headlong dynamism, punctuated with freeze moments when sword impacted flesh or blood artistically arabesqued, proved contagious. It is copied by today’s peplum sagas on TV, set in worlds of choreographed carnage and butch eroticism. 300: Rise of an Empire is fresher than those, but still suffers from trying to repeat the unrepeatable. Marvels abound early on, including a wondrous panorama of sacked Athens with reeking fires, howling armies, keeling-over statues. By sea-fight time it is the battle hymn of the Athenian republic versus the growing din of déjà vu.