7th March 2014
by Anne Brodie
This is an odd one to quantify. It takes place at the same time as the King Leonidas and a force of 300 men tale on the Persians at Thermopylae, around 480 B.C. So it’s not a pre/sequel to the Gerard Butler hit that took comic book nerds by storm in 2006. Leonidas is killed in battle, and we gaze upon his corpse some time in to the new film. It’s the same time, a different place, and the same wars are being fought.
Greece has become a democracy with hopes for a better future for all, but its good intentions are no match for the Persians. Admiral Themistocles’s (Sullivan Stapleton) naval fleet is powerful but against Persia’s might, and the woman behind it, is tenuous. He must forge an alliance with Sparta, where Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is mourning the death of Leonidas and unwilling to help to see more loss of life.
Meanwhile, Xerxes is the nominal head of Persia but Artemisia (Eva Green) is the real deal, the one that gets her hands bloody as Xerxes watches from above, and leads the navy from the front lines. She will have nothing less than total destruction of the Greeks. She is so deeply wicked and sadistic, so intent on instilling dread that she can chop off an enemy’s head and lift it and kiss it.
This is a character we haven’t seen in films in recent memory driven by bloodlust and cold ambition, a 90 pound wrecking ball. Green’s go-for-broke performance will be noted and remembered. The battle scenes are remarkably unique and clever; there is a better narrative sense here than is usual for genre films. The scenes make sense within a kind of strange naturalism. Heroes die. Heavy losses on both sides and the seas are filled with ruined bodies.