I saw the first 300 movie installment, when Leonidas with all his 299 Spartan men fought off Xerxes at Thermopylae, or the Hot Gates. I thought it was a joke that they called that place Hot Gates after seeing those shirtless Spartans with their washboard abs and physique that could shame my local gym's professional instructors.
It turned out that area was known for its hot sulphur springs. Hence, the name starts with the Greek word, thermo, meaning heat, or in this case, hot. When I saw it in 2006, the movie looked like the male version of a Victoria's Secret runway show. Everyone had abs, which I thought was a requirement for all the actors in the movie.
In this sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, the tradition continues. Less shirts, more abs and even more blood! I wonder if the costume department saved a lot of money from the half-nakedness of the cast. The most fabric went to the actresses, Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo and Eva Green as Artemisia. But looking at Xerxes, played by Rodrigo Santoro, they must have spent a lot on his make-up…from head to toe. Literally. And mostly in gold.
The movie's plot is intertwined with the story of the original 300. Someone who isn't familiar with 300 may have a difficulty understanding the insertions during the early part of the film.
But what was impressive for me, as in the first installment, was the dark, slow-motion violence with blood splattered in generous servings (sounds like a buffet! Ha-ha-ha), and without any care of the wastage of plasma that would make the nurses at the Red Cross blood donation center cringe each time it's spilled. The fight scenes were extremely violent and merciless, and the dialogues graphic. I would have wanted to quote a few here, but I'm not sure if the god-king Xerxes would allow me. Ha-ha-ha!
In the original, it was Leonidas who carried that movie the whole time, even after his death at the hot gates. (Leonidas, by the way, was a coffee shop in Myeong-dong that served the best chocolate coffee in Seoul. Sadly, it's now closed and I wonder if they moved elsewhere).
In this one, the movie revolved around Eva Green's Artemisia. Although the lead character and hero here is the Athenian,Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), he is always eclipsed by the presence, beauty and the voice of Eva Green. Eva's voice is quite distinct: low-toned, a little hoarse and scratchy. And her eyes are a bit scary, especially with that heavy eye make-up. She was perfect for the role.
In Dark Shadows, Eva Green, as a witch, played opposite Johnny Depp. In Casino Royale, she was James Bond's lover and she drowned inside an elevator when the whole building in Venice collapsed over her.
But does her character die in this one? Hmm. I won't tell you, but let me just say Artemisia is a very good swordswoman, whose ambitions and greed give this film the action scenes I mostly enjoyed, including the one with Themistocles... when they were alone in her chambers on a boat. The production also saved a lot of costume costs in this scene. Ha-ha-ha!
This movie would be a nice sequel to watch if you have seen the first one. It should be a good movie experience to enjoy those fight scenes full of silhouette and shadows. And of course, a lot of blood, decapitation, mutilation and washboard abs.
(Xerxes' poster at a Seoul subway station)