It’s been 8 years since Gerard Butler, Michael Fassbender and their crew of motley, muscular sorts took on the Persian army in Zack Synder’s overtly stylised, hugely enjoyable action-fest; and if you thought 300 was bloody, wait until you get a load of the sequel.
Taking part around the same time as the battle of 300, Rise of an Empire pads out its back-story a little more than its predecessor before embarking on its own scuffles.
Basically, we learn a bit more about the lanky God, Xerxes, and what went on around the time he and the Persian army hand Leonidas' 300 their arses. They want utter domination, and on their way to take over The Democratic city of Athens, they find themselves a sturdy obstacle in the shape of master tactician and all round hard bastard, Admiral Themistocles (an ace Stapleton). Themistocles finds himself engaged in a game of war chess with the powerful and ferocious Artemisia (Green), with the future of his city, and people, in peril.
It’s fair to say that Rise of an Empire is aimed at a certain audience; while there will be an element of those who go to marvel at the shredded soldiers on show, the vast majority will be young men hungry for action - which it delivers by the blood-ridden bucketload. This is probably the most endlessly entertaining action film since The Raid. It’s also sporadically thrilling with the relationship between Artemisia and Themistocles brimming with all sorts of tension, and the parallel plot of 300 taking place adding another layer to feast upon.
As leads, Stapleton grasps his chance at stardom, with a far more cerebral, but no less violent character than Butler’s brutish, loud Leonidas; in footballing terms, Themistocles is more of a Mourinho while Leonidas would be Fergie mid-hairdryer treatment. Eva Green steals every single scene she’s in, though, and ultimately the movie.
It’s far from perfect; at times the obviously wordy dialogue feels stoic and some of the supporting players a bit stiff, but what it does do is deliver exactly where it’s supposed to. A genuine spectacle and an entertaining one at that.