Way back in 2007, Zack Snyder's "300" hit screens like the blood-spray from a freshly sliced jugular. The story of 300 Spartans who held back the Persians at Thermopylae, the movie was a highly stylized orgy of violence filled with bare-chested male warriors writhing in crimson gore. It was battle porn, basically, and, like most porn, it made money, earning $456 million worldwide.
Compared to the new follow-up, "300: Rise of an Empire," the first movie feels positively quaint. To stretch the porn analogy, the old "300" now looks like a reel from the 1970s with its endearing attempts at story and character, while "Rise of an Empire" is the kind of stuff that sweaty teenagers now consume via broadband: a plotless montage of anonymous bodies.
Some fans of "300" might consider that good news, though surely even they can spot a knock-off. For starters, the first film's enjoyably overpumped star, Gerard Butler (as King Leonidas) is gone, leaving his widow, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), to help deliver the rousing speeches. The Persian king Xerxes, memorably played by Rodrigo Santoro as a kind of antiquity-era RuPaul, with facial piercings and a swinging codpiece, has been reduced to a bit part. Our hero is now Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton, "Gangster Squad"), a generic Greek general who shifts the battlefield from land to sea.
Directed not by Snyder (who co-wrote the screenplay) but by a hardworking impersonator, Noam Murro, "Rise of an Empire" seems to be overcompensating for something. Heads are severed, mouths stabbed, women raped, all of it captured in pleasure-lengthening slow-motion and smeared with thick digital blood. Murro goes overboard when adding depth to the 3-D field, filling the atmosphere with so much floating virtual crud -- dust motes, campfire sparks, pollen -- that it distracts from his already overwhelmed actors.
The one bright spot is Eva Green as Xerxes' machinator, Artemesia, a raccoon-eyed warrior princess. Just as she did in Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows," Green plays a snarling, insatiable, self-hating femme fatale and completely steals the show. (If some sharp director ever reattempts Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead," Green would make a perfect Dominique Francon.) Even Green, however, can't save "300: Rise of an Empire." It feels like a Vine video version of a feature film.
PLOT Greeks battle Persians in a follow-up to the 2007 blockbuster "300."
RATING R (extreme battle violence, sexual content)
CAST Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey
BOTTOM LINE Battle porn for undiscerning viewers.