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posted: 3/6/2014 5:00 AM

The 'Empire' strikes out with pompous storytelling

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  • Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton plays the leader of the Greek forces in "300: Rise of an Empire," a busy, visually tedious and overblown sequel.

    Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton plays the leader of the Greek forces in "300: Rise of an Empire," a busy, visually tedious and overblown sequel.


The title "300: Rise of an Empire" takes on a whole new meaning when this bombastically stylized ancient Greece live-action cartoon comes to its inadvertently hilarious seduction scene.

Eva Green plays Artemisia, a Greek-born warrior who now leads the Persian naval forces against her native countrymen to avenge what brutal Greek soldiers did to her and her family.

Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton plays Themistokles, fearless leader of the Greek army, although he mostly resembles a TV insurance salesman with serious vacation stubble on his face.

Calling a temporary truce, Artemisia invites Themistokles over to her place for some chitchat. She employs her animalistic feminine wiles to seduce the commander, and their lusty negotiations explode into a sexual pro wrestling match with sharp blades and busted furniture.

Not since "Shoot'em Up!," in which Clive Owen fought off attackers while having his way with moaning Monica Bellucci, has there been such a comically energized mating frenzy laced with violence.

Themistokles and Artemisia's graphic dance of the wild bunnies becomes the showcase sequence in "Rise of an Empire," an unlikely sequel to Zack Snyder's 2007 "300," in which nearly everybody died.

Seven years ago, Snyder's hard-R-rated tale of the Spartans came on like visual crack, splattering the screen with digital blood bursts, ratcheting up the editing and capturing violent acts in excruciatingly detailed slow motion.

Even. Completely. Stopping. Before resuming real-time speed.

Since then, other filmmakers have imitated these "Matrix"-like visuals until Snyder overdosed on this addictive style in his 2010 animated "Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole."

In "Rise of an Empire," Snyder gives the director's chair to Noam Murro, an Israeli commercial maker who, instead of putting his own stamp on the genre, merely tries to stylistically outdo Snyder's two earlier movies.

Now, the once fresh and exciting action sequences quickly devolve into unrelenting, repetitive tedium and ho-hum barbarism.

How many throats can be slashed, eyeballs pierced, limbs severed and bodies decapitated before it all becomes monotonous, visual white noise? (Make that black noise, considering that's the color of most of the "blood" in ancient Greece.)

The rest of "Rise of an Empire" is a travesty of storytelling. The first 20 minutes or so sound like an iPod history lesson from Sparta's Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), who narrates the film as it were written for the Boring Documentary Cable Channel.

Those snooty Spartans refuse to join Themistokles' call for a "united Greece" and sit out the battle until it directly affects them. Apparently the slaughter of their 300 best warriors, among them Gorgo's hunky hubby Gerard Butler, doesn't qualify.

This makes just about as much sense as the Greek leaders preaching equality and democracy while their slaves row the ships.

Even though the Persian ships outnumber the Greeks by a kajillion to one, Themistokles uses some crafty tricks to thwart their initial attacks and bring embarrassment to the overconfident Artemisia (who, incidentally, also subscribes to the Ernst Stavro Blofeld School of Dealing With Incompetent Subordinates).

Snyder, who wrote the screenplay with Kurt Johnstad (adapted from Frank Miller's graphic novel "Xerxes"), never offers any actual conversations, mostly pretentious speeches, dire warnings and ominous threats. ("Let it be known that we chose to die on our feet than to live on our knees!" Themistokles screeches.)

"300" fans who haven't yet overdosed on this pompous, inflated cinematic storytelling will get exactly what they expect in "Rise of an Empire," which hardly constitutes a compliment.

By the time Themistokles and Artemisia recycle that brain-dead John Woo visual cliché of two combatants drawing guns on each other but inexplicably refusing to fire (here, the guns become blades at the neck), there's no way that "Rise of an Empire" comes close to batting "300."

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