There are spoiler-type things littered about this review; but boy, talk about a spoiler proof movie...

If Eva Green never does anything with the rest of her career besides take dubious roles in doomed projects and have all the fun in the world playing her character up, down, and sideways as a giant pile of fresh-from-the-oven baked ham, well I'm fine with that. Two years ago we had her as the lip-smacking villain of the sleepy Tim Burton film Dark Shadows, and now in 2014 we have her as the the reptilian race- and gender-traitor bad guy of 300: Rise of an Empire, a film devoted with almost single-minded intensity to showcasing all the reasons why her character is a wretched termagant whose evil ways - and oh, how evil they are - are directly connected to the practice of her sexuality and individuality as a female. It is in response to this character that, in an interview, Green claimed, "It's very hard today to find strong roles for women and Artemesia is the strongest, toughest, bravest character I've ever played". That she would adopt this attitude towards a character outlined repeatedly in the script as the a misogynist's worst nightmare of what an empowered woman might look like goes a long way to explaining, I think, why she is also the most interesting person onscreen by a gap of roughly the same size used to explain the distances between planetary objects.

This second entry in the 300 saga, opening a winsome seven years after the first movie, is some indescribably and unholy narrative chimera that we don't have a word for yet. Sequel it is not, prequel it is not either; it is more like a jacket. It takes place prior to, at the same time as (but in a different location) and after 300, which concerned itself almost entirely with the Battle of Thermopylae of 480 BCE, the most famous and storied event of the Greco-Persian Wars that dominated the first half of that century. Rise of an Empire - a film which depicts multiple empires, none of which could justifiably be described as "rising" - makes an earnest attempt to recount the greater context of that war's early stages as it concerned the Greek city-states beyond just Sparta, and in fact it is perhaps slightly more responsible a work of history than 300 was. Which still makes it so historically illiterate that the very phrase "historically illiterate" is almost certainly giving it too much credit. But there are fewer things that are obviously batshit insane impossibilities, once you get over the fact that Xerxes I of Persia (Rodrigo Santoro) is once again portrayed as a 10-foot-tall gilded BDSM enthusiast without a follicle of hair on his person.

Xerxes, however, spends most of the movie too busy killing an unseen (but for stock footage) Gerard Butler to spend much time in Rise of an Empire, outside of a weirdly Expressionist montage narrated by Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) that lasts for, like, 15 minutes. This explains how he came to be filled with an outsized loathing for all Greeks after Athenian general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) killed his father, Darius (Igal Naor). The calculating Greek-turned-Persian Artemesia fills his ears with cunning words to trigger war, and it's she who serves as the big bad when, after many years of grousing, Xerxes launches attacks against the Greeks by land and by sea. The land war we already saw; now we turn to the battles of the massive Persian armada under Artemsia's control against the rag-tag Greek ships that Themistokles, still the best Greek military mind outside of Sparta, has been able to cobble together from all the people who aren't entirely certain they want to think of themselves as "the nation of Greece".

It's busier than 300, but otherwise the film basically draws from the same playbook: medium-length scenes of people declaiming rather unapologetic sentiments about how much better it is to die a warrior than live as anything, followed by lengthy action scenes that would only run about a third as long if the filmmakers could keep their damn finger off the damn "slow motion" button. Which makes sense, given that the screenwriters, Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad, did the exact same job on the last movie, and Snyder is anyway clearly riding hard on a movie that he was unavailable to direct thanks to his newfound job as the Joss Whedon of the DC Comics movie universe, but still wanted to bear all the hallmarks of "A Zack Snyder Film". The rules of which were largely defined by 300 in the first place. Director Noam Murro proves to be a pliable handmaiden for Snyder's vision without any attempt to insert his own (his directorial career till now has consisted, in its entirety, of the prickly 2008 indie comedy Smart People, making him quite possibly literally the most random choice possible for this project), and the biggest difference, visually, between the two films, is that instead of golden brown CGI backdrops and digital intermediate to give a homoerotic gloss to the characters' rippling abs, we now have slate blue CGI and DI, and the weakling Athenians et alia haven't such flawless bodies. Though that comparative literally only works with 300; you could still grate nutmeg on Stapleton's stomach, so cartoonishly well-defined is his musculature.

Switching from brown land to blue sea as a guiding visual motif is clever in its way, but generally Rise of an Empire works exactly the same way the first movie did; that is to say, not damn much at all, to my eyes. Post-production 3-D and better CGI technology have generally lead to an improvement in the loving depiction of intestines and blood flying all around in thick gouts that arc across the screen as slow as molasses; it is all the tackiness in the world bottled up into one package, but if anything, the violence is ramped up enough that it starts to become unbelievable and thus magnificently silly.

Also silly: the film's remarkbly, almost refreshingly honest misogyny, viewing Artemesia as a terrifying she-man with sexual appetites indistinguishable from bloodlust (in the film's centerpiece sex scene, she and Stapleton boast O-faces that make them look more like performers in torture porn than actual porn). I do try my hardest not to let Freudian theory get too comfortable on the pages of this blog, but sometimes a sword is just an unbelievably obvious phallus which the devil woman uses to rape men to death for displeasing her in any way, and even if I'd been able to not pay attention to it till the end, the climax that finds her having her cock ripped out of her hand ("cock", by the way, makes an anachronistic appearance in the dialogue - twice) as the hero plunges his own hard steel shaft into her belly at womb-height, forcing her to fall to her knees right in front of his crotch... sometimes, giving up and acknowledging the ridiculously straightforward symbolism is the only responsible way to approach it.

And so, back to Green we return. She adores it; I don't know if she's trying to subvert the staggering bias in every inch of the movie (Rise of the Empire is even more anti-woman than 300 was anti-gay), or if she's just having a hell of a time going unhinged and glowering out of her kohl-rimmed eyes with a look of undisguised, bestial hunger, and indulging in a nude scene (which I would have expected to be way below her pay grade by this point) with madcap abandon that erases any hint of exploitation. At any rate, she is plainly having fun, and it makes her fun to watch; it is the single piece of spice that turns this 300 clone into a zestful, delightful bad movie instead of just a tedious, violence-loving slog. Admittedly, Green is not alone, though she's the only person giving anything that resembles a genuinely good performance: the bulk of the men, and Stapleton chief among them, declaim and gesticulate madly in the hopes that they can somehow deal with the copious green screen effects that they obviously can't interact with by overplaying. Compared to the functionally sedate performances of the 300 cast, everybody here looks not so much like the road show cast as the dinner theater cast, and coupled with the "FUCK YOU I AM AN AMAZING VILLAIN" turn that Green slithers around with, it's enough to make Rise of the Empire zippy and dimwitted in a pleasant way. I do not suppose that actually makes it better than 300, and God knows I can't speak to what somebody might think who actually liked that rather ghastly explosion of ugly images, gorgeous men, and vile philosophy. At any rate, Rise of the Empire is the farthest thing from boring, even if it is also the farthest thing from good.