King Leonidas may have famously taken his small group of 300 Spartans to hold off a Persian army at the narrow pass of Thermopylae, but that's not all that was going on back in the late 400s.
There was also a little thing called the Persian fleet to deal with. A thousand ships strong, this incredible armada had the capability of smashing every Greek boat and port it encountered. It could also land troops behind Leonidas and his men and make their mighty effort moot.
That's where the Athenian general Themistokles must step in. He only has a handful of ships to work with, but he and his army of farmers and craftsmen are skilled and determined. Themistokles, you see, has special strategic insights learned through years of war with those dreaded Persians. And he and all his men hold a passion to see this new idea called democracy sweep through the Greek city-states and set every man, woman and child free.
On the opposite side, of course, is the god-king Xerxes and his million-man force. He wants nothing but the subjugation or utter destruction of Greece. And he puts Artemisia (a Greek woman who had been raped and abused by Greek slave traders since childhood) in charge of his Persian fleet. He is not to be disappointed in her, as vengeance flares in her eyes―an evil blaze as ferocious as the flames of Hades.
Muscles are bulging. Weapons are at the ready. And hearts are pounding with rage. The battle will be fierce. The carnage will be savage. The sea will run red.
There are several mentions of this new idea called democracy that's slowly blossoming and uniting the Greek people. And Themistokles talks of the value of sacrificing for "freedom," saying, "Let it be shown that we chose to die on our feet rather than live on our knees!"
Indeed, while this pic may be the cinematic equivalent of a bloody knife to the jugular, it does depict men staunchly facing impossible odds and fighting on for the sake of their friends and countrymen. It bolsters the idea that a few fighting bravely for good can result in a victory over overwhelming forces that battle for evil.
That spiritual evil is certainly a part of the equation here. The dying Persian king Darius tells his son, Xerxes, "Leave the Greeks to their ways, only the gods can defeat them." Artemisia takes that as an ethereal sign and convinces Xerxes that he must then become a "god-king." And so he gives himself over to "the darkest of evil" and steps out of a pool of water transformed into a 10-foot tall man-god.
Later, when Artemisia meets with Themistokles, she senses something powerful in him too, and she wonders if there's a "spark of the divine" in him. (Themistokles assures her he is but a man.)
When Xerxes is transformed, he rises from the water covered by nothing but a few gold chains and a golden codpiece. Artemisia wears a low-cut gown and a realistically molded breastplate.
As a child, Artemisia watches (along with us) as Greek soldiers rape and kill members of her family. Greek slavers then throw the child in the hold of a ship where, were told, she is violated and abused for years. We once see an older man approach her prone and unconscious form as he begins to remove his garments.
The camera ogles topless women in three different scenes. In one, a near-naked woman is being violently dragged away by her hair. In another, two bare-breasted women caress a man who sits between then. And in the last, attention is turned to Artemisia herself as she attempts to seduce Themistokles to her side of the war in a savage, multiple-position sex scene. It leaves him stripped naked (but strategically covered) and her with torn clothes and a bare upper body.
Death is a gruesome ordeal in this gratuitous regurgitating of ancient war. It starts with an enraged Xerxes lopping off the head of King Leonidas, leaving the dead Spartan lying akimbo amidst a blood-drenched bird's-eye death tableau of his fallen comrades. And then the carnage ramps up from there. Bodies are riddled with arrows, dismembered limbs tumble, heads are cut off with both a clean swinging chop and a savage saw. Artemisia is trained as a killer swordswoman, and she's keen at lopping off heads. We see her carrying at least a half-dozen of the gore-dripping trophies at one point.
Men are blown up, set aflame, used as human bombs and boiled in pools of oil. Skulls are split in two and crushed in slow-motion by the trampling hooves of a terrified horse. Torsos are splayed open and skewered with everything from swords and pikes to chunks of crumbling ships. The demolished ships themselves become tombs for the whipped and raw slaves chained to the oars below deck. On shore, stacks of bodies are left to rot, carrion birds pecking out their eyes and organs for food.
I should mention here that all this death-dealing isn't just tossed up on the screen in a crowd-of-extras jumble. It's incredibly well choreographed and slickly filmed―with key kills watched closely and slowed enough to be seen in all their macabre "glory"—and from multiple angles too. It's designed to give moviegoers a certain adrenaline boost, along with an almost performance art appreciation of the "coolness" of cinematic carnage.
Crude or Profane Language
One or two f-words. A couple of uses of "c‑‑k." There's a handful of milder profanities (including "d‑‑n").
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine in imbibed at a meal and poured by Artemisia during her encounter with Themistokles.
The 2007 blockbuster 300 was a grandly reshaped, intensely violent, graphic novel-inspired reimagining of an actual historical event in which 300 Spartans stood against a Persian army of hundreds of thousands.
300: Rise of an Empire similarly recounts the concurrent Greco-Persian seagoing Battle of Artemisium. It also jumps back to the Battle of Marathon to give us some historical context and then forward to the sacking of Athens and then back to … well, let's just say this tale isn't particularly linear. And if you don't know your history, you'll likely be left scratching your head.
Of course, historical accuracy and attention to timelines don't really matter much with this kind of flick. A 300 movie is designed―with its chroma key tech, unsaturated colors, gelled lenses, slo-mo flesh hacking and Hollywoodized script―to be more of a blast of bombastic beefcake-in-a-blender than anything resembling believable biography.
If anything, there are more orgiastic gouts of blood splashing the scenery than even the first 300 seemed to muster. And now that women warriors are added to the mix, there's also some hard-fisted misogyny to get tangled up with.
This film revels in glistening abs, bronzed muscles and screamed grunts of "gaaaah!" as limbs are lopped and throats are slashed. Or to put it a slightly different way, the camera lingers on bare breasts and ripped torsos as those muscled specimens slam into one another in savage sexual encounters or fatal fights. It's all coated in splashing geysers of blood and gore that gush from a bigger-than-life version of frenzied, slaughtering, mythical battle.