By Joseph McAleer
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — Blood and guts sloshing across the big screen in slow motion 3-D must be someone’s idea of a cinematic treat; otherwise, we’d have been spared "300: Rise of an Empire" (Warner Bros).
The film, both a prequel and a sequel to 2007’s "300," serves up a second helping of the choreographed violence and warrior beefcake that characterized its predecessor, with ancient Greeks and Persians once again battling for supremacy of the Aegean peninsula.
Zack Snyder, who directed the original, returns as producer and co-writer of the new screenplay, based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller. Noam Murro ("Smart People") follows the same directing playbook as Snyder, short on dialogue but long on relentless and increasingly repellent action.
Don’t even try to keep a count of the stabbings, beheadings, maimings and immolations on display. All are intended to demonstrate the triumph of good over evil, and reinforce such militaristic platitudes as, "There is no nobler cause than to fight beside the man who would lay down his life to save you."
When we last left Sparta, that city-state’s valiant army, led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), had fallen at the hands of the god-king Xerxes’ (Rodrigo Santoro) wicked Persians.
Now we learn the backstory of Xerxes and his turn to the dark side. Devastated by the murder of his father, King Darius (Igal Naor), by Athenian admiral Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), Xerxes is consumed by grief.
Enter Artemisia (Eva Green), sexy vixen with another tongue-twisting name. A Greek-turned-loyal-Persian, she commands Xerxes’ navy.
She’s also handy with the dark arts. Before you can say "Opa!" Xerxes emerges from Artemisia’s magical bath as an invincible 10-foot-tall warrior with a penchant for gold and piercings.
The massacre of the 300 Spartans complete, Artemisia and her minions plan an invasion of Greece, this time by sea. Artemisia and her ships set sail for Athens, where they will engage Themistokles and his boats and avenge the death of Darius.
Hopelessly outnumbered, Themistokles tries to rally rival Greek states into presenting a united front against the foreign invader. Athens could really use the Spartan fleet, but Leonidas’ grieving widow, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), has second thoughts.
The stage is set for a rousing showdown with freedom and democracy on the line. Themistokles proclaims to Artemisia, "We would rather die on our feet than live on our knees."
If all this sounds confusing and rather silly, it is, even if there is a bit of real history involved. Suffice it to say that tasteless carnage is the name of the game, with innumerable gross-out moments.
Just when you think you’ve seen it all, Artemisia decapitates a spy, picks up his severed head, and plants a wet kiss on his dead lips.
The film contains relentless gory and sometimes gruesome fighting, a graphic nonmarital sex scene, upper female and rear nudity, skimpy costumes and some rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.
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