Eva Green is a force of nature in otherwise dull '300' follow-up, 'Rise of an Empire'
300: Rise of an Empire Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Noam Murro
Screenplay: Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, based on the graphic novel Xerxes, by Frank Miller
Starring: Eva Green, Sullivan Stapleton, Lena Headey, Callan Mulvey, Jack O'Connell, Hans Matheson and Rodrigo Santoro
Rated R / 1 hour, 42 minutes
March 7, 2014
(out of four)
A word of advisement: If you're ever attempting to have sex with Eva Green when she's in Villain Mode, be forewarned that this will simultaneously be the most magnificent and most terrifying experience of your life. This has become a pattern, and it's best you're aware of what you might be getting yourself into.
Two years ago, as a vampy blonde in Dark Shadows, she seduced and overpowered Johnny Depp in a scene that featured her tongue doing truly amazing things. Their bodies crashed and rolled from couch to wall to wall to floor to wall to ceiling and back again, destroying everything in their path with lustful abandon. In the end, Depp sat among the ruins, utterly defeated, while Eva calmly smoked a cigarette.
And now, with 300: Rise of an Empire, she is at it again, this time with an Athenian war general as her conquest. She, Artemisia - a Greek-born, Persian-raised, bloodthirsty, warmongering psychopath, but the really sexy kind - summons her current wartime nemesis, the aforementioned Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), for a negotiation session that turns into a battle of sexual gamesmanship. From the moment her thigh makes an appearance during a strategic map demonstration, her intentions are clear. And when the fun finally begins, what takes place is more like a fight scene than anything else - think Mr. and Mrs. Smith - with each party trying to be the aggressor. That particular battle of wills, frankly, is a foregone conclusion. Poor, poor Sullivan Stapleton (or Themistocles, if you prefer); fella had no idea what he was in for. Suffice it to say, if you find yourself wrapped up in just such a situation with an Eva Green character, she will come out on top, every possible pun intended.
(I'm aware that Green will star as the titular dame to kill for in the upcoming Sin City sequel, and frankly, I'm not sure I'm physically or emotionally prepared for it. But I digress.)
What does all of this have to do with Rise of an Empire itself? Well, leaving aside the fact that Green's Artemisia is responsible for every scene in the movie that actually works, more importantly she fills a sorely needed void in the franchise as a whole.
Zack Snyder's original 300 was a desperate advertisement for its own machismo, a movie made for frat bros, and with exactly the charm of frat bros. If I were to give this follow-up entry any credit for thoughtfulness, I would say Artemisia is a stern rebuke to the pathetic male posturing of the original. If not, at the very least she's a one-woman antidote to its relentless pseudo-manliness. From the way she wields a weapon to the way she wields her sexuality, Artemisia is the most primal force of humanity we've seen in either of the two movies, effortlessly cutting through the facile testosterone of the men she commands and the men she fights.
The film still retains the silly, empty spectacle and general monotony of the first movie. After all, though Snyder is no longer in the director's seat, he did co-write the screenplay, which is to say the screenplay is humorless and exposition-happy. It's no secret why Green stands out as much as she does here; she's the only thing giving any life to it. She's the only one who seems to have blood running in her veins.
Stapleton - who's a bit like a younger, leaner Russell Crowe with less charisma - is no match, though that's more the fault of the aimlessness of the movie's attitude than with his performance specifically. While retaining the maniacal, live-free-or-die spirit of the original, Rise of an Empire* - which is not so much a sequel as a companion piece - bogs itself down with backstories, political negotiations and maneuvers, flashbacks and origin tales. We learn how Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) came to be, and what role Artemisia played in his ascendancy to the Persian throne. We learn who wants revenge and why. We learn who fought for whom and why. That it doesn't make any real sense is obvious; the problem is that the movie really seems to think it does.
* The title, by the way, doesn't make any sense, either, and applies to virtually nothing in the movie.
With new director Noam Murro (Smart People) at the helm, the film's stylistic indulgences are somewhat muted this time, rendering these versions of Greece and Persia less cartoonish but also less unique. He even fits in a few moments of genuine wit, something his predecessor never did.
But it's safe to say that the movie loses something - rather, loses practically everything - each moment that Green is not on screen. There's not a whole lot to the story here to begin with, and about half the scenes in the movie only reaffirm that fact. But when Artemisia shows up, it at least feels like there's more to it. She may not be able to singlehandedly turn this into a good movie, but when she's on screen, the tone noticeably shifts; suddenly all of this nonsense feels carnal, vibrant, dangerous. It takes a hell of a physical presence to make something this stupid seem so potent, even if it's only for a few moments here and there.