THIS IS . . . surprisingly watchable and not bad. We seek that day where sequels can surpass their masters. There have been legends. But alas, today is not that day. But don’t worry, it still bears the bare boned brutality, visual brilliance and enough gore and testosterone to cure your blood lust and fill up a swimming pool, well in this case, an ocean, a bloody ocean. I mean look at the picture. Anyway . . .
So what is this legend about, brother? Well, based on Frank Miller’s latest graphic novel Xerxes, and told in the breathtaking visual style of its predecessor, this new chapter of the epic saga takes the action to a fresh oceanic battlefield as Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) attempts to unite all of Greece by leading the charge that will change the course of the war against the invading Persian forces led by the God king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), and vengeful naval commander, Artemesia (Eva Green).
Cue a watchable bloody battle of a movie in the best sense. The opening 20 minutes flicks back and forth and adds some depth and background to the blinged up, chained, tighty whitey wearing baldy badass that is Xerxes. It’s tough to call this a sequel as such. Rise of an Empire flicks before the infamous 300 battle, plays alongside the infamous battle time frame and then after. A bit like what Saw 4 tried to do. It works well and makes for a change. It zips along, delving into the Millerised Greek mythology chronicling the origins of Xerces and how he transformed from the weedy model looking Santoro to the testosterone pumped, voice changing reincarnation of Yul Bryner. It makes for good viewing and introduces Themistokles quite nicely, with Lena Headey’s somber narration guiding us along.
It does fill in a few gaps that the first left. Well little qualms. This is most notable when Themistokles rushes to Sparta to warn them of Xerves, just after Leonidas gave his response to the messenger. Unfortunately Leonidas is always somewhere else. I was hoping for one Butler cameo. It also worked as a great excuse to throw in some old faces from the original; Lena Headey, David Wenham (Lord of the Rings) and Peter Mensah (TV’s Spartacus). Stapleton makes for a likeable Themistokles and drops his so-so American accent. For those who might have clocked him, yes, he is the American in Strike Back. It’s tough boots for him to fill. Where he looks in the booming conviction (no one can top the sheer volume of Gerard Butler . . . well, Brian Blessed), he carries enough bravado to pull it off. It helps that Themistokles is an interesting character and a clever tactician. It made a change for the action to be taken out to sea and not repeat the 300 ground warfare, which makes for an entertaining battlefield.
However, all the build up and background is soon cast aside for the carnage. The visual effects are brilliant with the typical slow mo shots coming into effect. The blood spatter spraying across the screen does get annoying as it happens for almost every kill and gets a little cartoony. However, some of the kills are creative but it does seem to slow mo stab every soldier and animal. However, that is soon made up with crazy swordplay. The tactical battle sequences make for great viewing. The animation gets a little bit more messy as the film reaches its climax. The real scene stealer of the film is Eva Green, devilishly delightful, demure and demented. Crazy with a blade and a stunner to boot. There’s good chemistry between Green and Stapleton which inevitably leads to a fiery encounter on the battlefield . . . and in the bedroom. Seriously the sex scene. What was going on with that? Raunchy and rough soon climaxes (steady now) into an unintentionally hilarious punch up fist fight of a shag, I say. The cliched camaraderie between Testicles, I mean, Themistokles and his men is predictable and just doesn’t get away with it like the original. Surprise to see Jack O’Connell. He’s starting to show up in every thing, with his prison movie, Starred Up soon to hit the big screen. Shame, his character was a bit naff.
It might lack the cutting edge and tenacity of the original but is still watchable, gory and entertaining enough to kill 90 minutes. Hardly a war classic but not a complete ship wreck. 3 (just) out of 5!
Currently ranks #62 out of 154!