300: Rise of an Empire (R)
Action/Adventure 102 min. March 7, 2014
In that picture, directed by Zack Snyder and based on Frank Miller's graphic novel about the three-day Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., the Spartans and their small but mighty army kicked the asses of the Persians, with much yelling, grunting, and spilling of black-red CGI blood. 300: Rise of an Empire might have been essentially more of the same, but for one distinction that makes it 300 times better than its predecessor: Mere mortals of Athens, Sparta, and every city from Mumbai to Minneapolis, behold the magnificent Eva Green, and tremble! This time around, Athenian warrior Themistocles, gentle-spirited but tough as a lion's claw, is the star -- he's played by Sullivan Stapleton, who musters at least a few whiskers' worth of authority. But really, who's looking at him? Green’s Artemisia is something to behold. She makes her entrance in a fringed leather gown with a molded breastplate, sweeping into the Persian palace like a B.C. Morticia Addams. Her over-the-topness -- and, in one scene, her resplendent toplessness -- really gets Rise of an Empire cooking. Artemisia commands her naval warriors as if she were telling them what to do in bed: "Today we will dance across the backs of dead Greeks," she purrs, pronouncing the word dance "dahnse" -- because that's what an all-powerful enchantress would do. When she lowers her kohl-rimmed eyes, the sailors hear, and they obey. They'll kill for her, and they’ll die for her. Green makes it all look like dahnsing.