"300: Rise of an Empire"

Eva Green stars as the beautiful, deadly Artemisia in “300: Rise of an Empire.”

I’ve made it my mission in life to have a wardrobe made entirely of black leather.

I also plan on learning the art of swordplay. In battle, my dual blades will glisten with the blood of my enemies as I conquer each and every foe that dares to challenge me.

During my recent viewing of “300: Rise of an Empire,” my life’s ambitions were realized. It’s the prequel/sequel/partner-in-crime to 2006’s “300.”

The latter focused on a hopeful — but suicidal — mission of Spartan King Leonidas and his brave company of 300 soldiers as they fought against a Persian invasion at the Battle of Thermopylae. “Rise of an Empire” tells a similar tale of Athenian general Themistokles as he seeks to unite all of Greece and combat Persian King Xerxes. Apparently, you can’t keep a good Persian down.

The Greek forces are heavily outnumbered, but they have determination and heart on their side. Kind of like the first one. But, these battles are waged in the sea, so it’s totally different. That’s what the publicity department wants me to think anyway.

The Persian forces are led by fierce naval commander Artemisia, played by the amazing Eva Green — who can be seen later this year in another Frank Miller adaptation “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.” Green isn’t a household name and might not even be a recognizable face for many. Previous roles include “Casino Royale,” “Dark Shadows,” and the series “Camelot.”

Artemisia is a cold woman. Some might go so far as to call her heartless, but she’s only become what life has created. Born Greek but treated as badly as a woman can be treated short of death, but she is victim of what has been classically called a “fate worse than death” for my fair sex.

She is saved by a Persian and given a new life. A life where she is strong, capable and will bow to no one. A life where her one goal in life is to bring Greece to its knees.

Themistokles takes on the male protagonist role since we have no Gerard Butler this time around, although his head does make a cameo. Perhaps it’s the fact Green, Lena Headey, Butler, Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes) all create larger-than-life personas, or even just the fact they actually have personality, period, but our new “hero,” played by Sullivan Stapleton, falls flat for me.

Watching the film, I realize the Persians ARE the bad guys but I struggle to find reason to root for our Greek general as he fights to take Artemisia and her forces down.

In “300,” Butler’s chemistry with Headey, who plays Spartan Queen Gorgo, carries through into each scene. Their romance, their loyalty and their collective drive permeate the scenes, even when they’re not acting together.

The chemistry between Leonidas and his 300 men is overwhelming as each man joins together in a united mission to give their all, and possibly their lives for Sparta. It similarly permeates every scene.

“Rise of an Empire” tries to find the same camaraderie between Themistokles and his own men, but it feels forced. Even at significant deaths, I found myself fighting to care.

Stapleton just falls flat as a character. His heroics might be impressive at times, but he’s lackluster as a leader, let alone a character. The only time he seems slightly engaged is during a steamy scene with Armetesia, where the two battle for control. In every way possible.

Whereas I watched “300” and was surprised by the way the storyline wove into this bloody tale of war, “Rise of an Empire” seems to have insurmountable structural issues. The two films are linked: the events of this second movie take place before, concurrently and after the events of the first.

Under the helm of a different director, the action is bigger and the gore more flowy, splattery. “Rise of an Empire” kicks it up a notch with more violence, more splurts and splashes of blood — whether from a simple cut or dismemberment.

The first film was just as violent and gory. However, it was beautifully interwoven with a storyline and characters I frankly gave a damn about. Eat your heart out, Rhett.

Having said all that, though, “Rise of an Empire” impresses me in a way the other film didn’t. While Queen Gorgo was pretty awesome in “300,” and had some lines in the movie I am sure I will quote in the future, the movie’s females weren’t equal to their male counterparts. The oracles, while used for wisdom, were chosen in the film’s world due to their beauty, so disease-ridden old men could enjoy them sexually. In the immortal words of James Brown, it was a “man’s, man’s, man’s world.”

The new film suffers no such fools.

Artemisia is truly bad ass. She’s technically a villain, but she’s honestly a role model for women everywhere. Her body is her own, and she wields as much power as the king of her country. Queen Gorgo, following Leonidas’ death, controls all of Sparta’s military forces. She bravely leads her men to battle and fights alongside them.

“300: Rise of an Empire” isn’t a great film. Structurally, it’s lacking and most of its protagonists aren’t exactly thrilling, at least not as characters. As men glistening with oil, rippling with muscles and swinging heavy things, they do just fine.

But even I can only look at half-naked men for so long before I want something more.

Luckily, Green is there to fill that void. Her take on Artemisia makes her worth watching, in this film and in future projects.

Amanda Greever is the assistant managing editor of The Daily Times; she’ll also be contributing film reviews on a regular basis for Weekend. Contact her at amanda.greever@thedailytimes.com, follow her on Twitter @agreever_editor and “Like” Weekend on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dailytimesweekend

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