300: Rise of an Empire review: Artemisia rocks

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300 Rise of an Empire yellow light Eva Green

Eva Green stalks this movie with pride and honor, and is almost the only thing worth watching amidst frenetic CGI cartoon battle action and endless ancient carnage.
I’m “biast” (pro): loved 300

I’m “biast” (con): worried about Zack Snyder’s absence as director

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I’m beginning to understand how supervillains get born. Cuz I was rooting for the evil superbitch Persian naval commander Artemisia here, and I’m not even going to apologize for it.

Look, Hollywood: You mostly ignore us women, treat us like prizes to be won by heroes and blithering morons whose only goal in life is to find husbands. You tell us, in effect, that the stories of our lives aren’t worth telling, that we only matter as adjuncts to men’s stories. And then you give us a movie like 300: Rise of an Empire, sequel to 300, which is like a bad xerox made by someone who doesn’t quite understand how to use the copier… and at the center of it, radiating like a dark sun, is the glory of Eva Green as Artemisia. She is a Smurfette warrior, a lone woman in a boys-only club… and men, even her own men, look on her with fear and awe. She is smarter and more competent and more ambitious than all of them put together. She commands enormous respect and wields vast power and she likes it. Green stalks this movie with pride and honor, and is almost the only thing worth watching here.

Honestly, I’m not sure I really get why she’s the bad guy at all. How am I not supposed to have my notions of right and wrong turned upside-down till I start cosplaying Artemisia at Comic-Con, just to try to grab some of her cool for myself? Guys get to cosplay Superman and Iron Man and Captain America and all those square-jawed noble dudes. If nasty Artemisia is all we chicks get, well, we’ll take her. Ignore us and mistreat us at your own peril, men. (Not coincidentally, Artemisia’s backstory has something to say about this, too.)

Green (The Golden Compass, Casino Royale) manages to pull off her ferocious awesome in spite of the fact that director Noam Murro — who has made only one previous film, and it’s a contemporary dramedy, not an action flick — has no idea how to create the same sense of mythic grandeur that Zack Snyder achieved with 300. Oh, he knows that every now and then he needs to toss in some slo-mo, so we can (he hopes) get a grasp on the frenetic CGI cartoon battle action and enjoy some blood and brain matter splattered across our 3D glasses during the endless ancient carnage. But tossing those moments in at random doesn’t work. Still, something has to distract, I suppose, from the bland soldierness of Greek general Themistokles; actor Sullivan Stapleton (Gangster Squad, Animal Kingdom) is no Gerald Butler, though he valiantly attempts to scowl in what he probably intends to be a meaningful way whenever possible.

Themistokles is totally into saving Greek democracy from the bad Persians, except when the politicians don’t agree with his plan to unite Greece to fight them off. Will Themistokles have to destroy democracy in order to save democracy? I’m not sure if it’s more funny or more sad, but perhaps the most damning thing I can say about Rise of an Empire is that no one is going to be moved to heated debate over whether this movie is an endorsement of or an indictment of U.S. foreign policy since 9/11, as happened with 300. There’s just not enough here here to be that interesting.

It should be way more compelling, too, that events here are happening alongside those of 300: when Themistokles goes to Sparta to enlist their help in the coming war with the Persians, Queen Gorgo basically tells him to fuck off, cuz her husband is off preparing for war on his own terms. (This could be the most incisive criticism of Rise of the Empire: its own prequel wants nothing to do with it.) (Oh, and Butler does not appear here, except in a few brief snippets snatched from the first film.) Yet, somewhat bizarrely, though almost everything here is seen through Themistokles’s eyes — except when the action moves to Artemisia’s side — the film is narrated by Gorgo (Lena Headey [The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The Purge], also totally awesome, but not in this anywhere near enough). And she’s telling us things she cannot possibly know about, like how Artemisia pretty much invented Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro: The Last Stand, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) as a towering 10-foot-tall, bald and bejeweled god-king. (Turns out that that process is not as cool as you might think, and mostly involves hermits in a cave standing around being hermity.)

In Snyder’s hands, stuff like this — almost, you know, exactly like this — was transformed into a treatise on the power of myth and the necessity of storytelling as a cultural unifier. Here, we just wonder how Gorgo gets her information, and whether we should even believe her. Though when she mentions “the stink of destiny,” it’s hard not to snort and wonder if she smells where that stink is coming from, too.

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Matt Clayton
Matt Clayton
Tue, Mar 04, 2014 11:33pm

Almost? Aside from Eva Green and Lena Headey, what else is worthwhile about 300: Rise of an Empire?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Matt Clayton
Tue, Mar 04, 2014 11:45pm

You mostly said it right there: Headey.

And Santoro. And there are a few interestingly dizzying visuals.

And anyone who enjoyed the carnage of the first film for its own sake will enjoy it again here.

Carlos Daniel
Carlos Daniel
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 1:13am

Well, boohoo. Are we reviewing a movie or complaining because apparently there aren’t enough female heroes in Hollywood movies?
And you are wrong. There are many female characters in movies who aren’t trophies or empty-headed.
There’s Sarah Connor, Ellen Ripley, Hermione Granger, The Bride, Alice (from Resident Evil) and Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Neytiri, Clarice Starling, Mako Mori, Selene, Tauriel, Galadriel…
Should I continue?
Even the girls from Sucker Punch are liked by lots of women. They cosplay as those characters, they draw them, write about them…etc.
Now, if Hollywood keeps offering bland romantic comedies or movies about girls who dream about getting married and such is because women keep consuming them, because men aren’t certainly the target audience of those. The Twilight franchise was a major success. Same with The Hunger Games, which is a lame teenage romance disguised as Battle Royale. And it was also a box office hit.
So, yeah. Your argument is invalid.

Jurgan
Jurgan
reply to  Carlos Daniel
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 1:17am

Wow, he went straight to “but Ripley!” just like the caricature you offered the other day. Poe’s Law in effect.

Carlos Daniel
Carlos Daniel
reply to  Jurgan
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 2:13am

So let’s pretend those characters don’t exist.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Carlos Daniel
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 11:03am

No one pretends those characters don’t exist. But they are a drop in the bucket compared to the movies with male protagonists.

I will say it again: Having to reach back a third of a century for your best example (Ripley) is an indictment, not a defense, of Hollywood. I don’t know what calendar you’re using, but *Alien* IS from the last century.

Thank you so much for your permission for us to continue complaining.

Carlos Daniel
Carlos Daniel
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Mar 06, 2014 5:58am

All right, you got me there. What I wanted to say is that Alien isn’t a hundred years old to be considered an invalid or even archaic example.
English is not my native language, so I kinda screwed up. Anyway, there’s no point in arguing. Let’s agree to disagree.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Carlos Daniel
Tue, Mar 11, 2014 11:57pm

Artemisia has been known to history buffs for centuries yet this is only the second Hollywood movie to mention her. Odd coincidence, eh?

SailorSerena
SailorSerena
reply to  Carlos Daniel
Thu, Apr 29, 2021 12:26pm

I’m not sure you know what a century is.

bronxbee
bronxbee
reply to  Carlos Daniel
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 5:10pm

“…not like Alien is a movie from the last century or something.”
Alien was released in 1979… so, it is exactly like a movie from the last century.

Sean S
Sean S
reply to  Carlos Daniel
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 1:44am

okay, you’re a massive, massive idiot. hollywood won’t touch female driven material. trust me, you don’t know how producers think, you’ve never written a female-driven project with no existing source material and had a producer tell you it’s great but there’s no possible way. especially not if the material is heightened, r-rated or expensive. twilight had source material, hunger games had source material, this 300 sequel has source material and is a sequel, hence they can confidently put in a female lead. hermoine was from the harry potter books, which was what? source material. alice was from alice in wonderland? same thing. clarice came from where? a book. source material. and on and on and on. neyteri was in a james cameron film and he can do whatever the fuck he wants, which is the same as sucker punch, which was zack snyder’s dream project and warners let him do whatever he wanted. the bride was tarantino, and tarantino can do whatever the hell he wants… and on and on and on… when you see a female lead, just know it’s a very special, no-risk situation or a favor to someone big.

Carlos Daniel
Carlos Daniel
reply to  Sean S
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 2:12am

Whatever.

KingNewbs
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 1:55am

Eva Green is fantastic in everything she does, so I’m not surprised by this.

Also I do like carnage for its own sake. So win-win!

Crisisinthewoods
Crisisinthewoods
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 7:00am

This was kind of a pointless and pathetic tirade against the status of women in movies, rather than a review of the movie. I’m sure Eva Green is great, as she usually is, but focusing exclusively on her simply because ‘wah, there aren’t enough strong women in cinema’ is incredibly, ridiculously stupid. Cos-play away, that doesn’t tell us shit about whether the movie as a whole is worth seeing if you’re not some sad woman desperate for grrl power.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Crisisinthewoods
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 11:00am

You’re at the wrong review site.

Cory Matthew Mellor
Cory Matthew Mellor
reply to  Crisisinthewoods
Thu, Mar 06, 2014 9:31am

i agree with you!!! this was a very sad review, more like a rant on “Hollywood” waaaa women can can kick ass too waaaa. please don’t ever write another review again, thanks.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Cory Matthew Mellor
Thu, Mar 06, 2014 10:25am

The butthurt of men when they are suddenly not the center of attention is hilarious.

I will continue writing reviews just to spite you personally.

PS: You are also at the wrong review site.

RogerBW
RogerBW
Wed, Mar 05, 2014 12:25pm

Destiny. It smells like… money.

NorthernStar
NorthernStar
Thu, Mar 06, 2014 3:34pm

I will probably still watch this because the excellent Jack O’Connell is in it. Are the SFX worth shelling out a bit more for IMAX?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  NorthernStar
Thu, Mar 06, 2014 5:30pm

I didn’t see the IMAX version, but I did see the 3D one.

There are a few vistas — when Xerxes looks down from on high over all he rules — that are spectacular. But that’s literally less than a minute of film. I wouldn’t pay more for that.

dionwr
dionwr
Fri, Mar 07, 2014 4:58pm

Did they actually use the phrase, “the stink of destiny”?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  dionwr
Sat, Mar 08, 2014 12:13pm

Oh yes.

CB
CB
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Sat, Mar 08, 2014 3:33pm

Sounds like a rejected toilet joke from the Tenacious D movie.

Sequence
Sequence
Fri, Mar 07, 2014 6:06pm

Hollywood tells women to do those things? Women have been doing those things for more than a couple centuries.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Sequence
Sat, Mar 08, 2014 12:14pm

Please do expand on this interesting theory of yours.

maxzumstein
maxzumstein
Sat, Mar 08, 2014 8:55am

I think Artemisia has potential to rock much more than she actually rocks, because she’s treated so poorly by the film itself. I’m actually a little shocked by how few writers are criticizing this film’s blatant misogyny. I’ll post here what I’ve posted elsewhere because I’m curious about reactions:

—SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS—

I think the film goes into territory so sexist there’s no going back precisely around the time of the sex scene. Obviously the villain trying to “seduce” the hero is a common trope in films, and of course because Artemisia is a pretty woman they have to make the seduction literal, I guess. If it just ended there it’d be problematic enough. But what’s the noble hero Themistocles’ answer to this loose warlord lady’s attempt at seduction? He has aggressive sex with her, her boobs are shown for the first and only time in the movie to really drive it home that she’s a sex object, and THEN he says “No”, in a beat that elicited tons of laughter from my theater audience and is meant to be a big rah rah dudebro moment: Not only has Themistocles triumphed over temptation to evil at the suggestion of this Jezebel, he put her in her rightful womanly place by having sex with her and THEN saying “No”.

This moment MIGHT conceivably be defensible if it were shown that Artemisia was just using her sexuality as a weapon and lost at her own game, but another layer of awful is added on by showing that Artemisia is genuinely hurt emotionally by the interaction. The message of course being that even badass warlords are subject to their most basic girly emotions, and just can not help but falling in love with hunky men, even if that man is the enemy. You know, the same type of stuff people say about why we couldn’t have a female president. For the rest of the movie Artemisia is then reduced to the “Woman Scorned”, becoming notably more active and aggressive in battles because this time it’s personal, she’s had her heart broken. And her psycho ex girlfriend quest for revenge is eventually met with being stabbed in the torso with a phallic object and brought to her knees in front of the hero where she belongs.

—END SPOILERS—

Sorry I know I wrote an essay but I think this movie is a lot more troubling in its depictions of women than the writer is acknowledging here. I’m curious to hear anyone else’s thoughts on the subject?

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  maxzumstein
Sat, Mar 08, 2014 12:08pm

There are definitely problems here, but you could say that Themistokles is as affected by their meeting as she is.

This is not a good movie. I did not list all the reasons it is not good. I wanted to celebrate Eva Green instead.

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
Mon, Mar 10, 2014 6:27pm

How cool of Themistokles to quote Emiliano Zapata many centuries before Zapata was even born. ;)

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Mon, Mar 10, 2014 6:59pm

We now know that Emiliano Zapata was one of the first time-travelers. He went back and forth across the centuries having wild adventures, accompanied by his loyal cat. The cat had a jet pack, as we can see from historical documents:

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/06/fur-flies-rocket-cats-warfare-manual

Tonio Kruger
Tonio Kruger
reply to  Danielm80
Tue, Mar 11, 2014 11:53pm

I suspected as much. :)

mapzilla
mapzilla
Tue, Mar 11, 2014 10:02pm

Artemisia embodies the alpha male primitive. Look at me daddy. I can go ape shit just like you. Yipee! Slaughter – the pinnacle of manhood (and girls who so desparately want to belong to the men’s club they will resort to the most extreme flattery).

Give me commerce, the arts, science, and technology as better testaments to manhood. All bi-products of peace and human solidarity independent of the alpha male primitive.

Another note about these movies. A girl who fights is never allowed to be average. No, to get into the men’s club she has to get a perfect 100 on her skills test. Guess that is why you never see female minions. That would suggest equal opportunity for the everyday woman. Can’t have that.

This movie suggests that women (Gorgo and Artemisia) are drivers for war, even though they constitute almost none of the combatants. True the alpha male is driven by sex, but to say the female is the ruse for violence is letting the true culprit off the hook. The alpha male primitive mindset (real or emulated) is the root cause of violence.

Evelyn888
Evelyn888
Sat, Jul 26, 2014 3:36pm

Artemisia and Xerxes are among the most despicable characters in movies that came out in the last 4-5 years, the other two being Calvin and Stephen in Django Unchained.

Tyrants, Slavers, Subjugators etc.. screw em all, watching them die at the hands of those they try to enslave satisfies every time.

Gorgo is ten times better. She’s strong and leading, but she doesn’t sacrifice her being a person who believes in freedom and a wife who loves her husband.