Movie review: “300” sequel all style, even less substance

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From the March 6, 2014 edition

Attention, “300” fans. It’s time to grease up (or is that Greece up?) for another dose of chiseled dudes murdering each other.

Director Zack Snyder’s 2006 adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel “300” was a triumph of style, introducing the director’s signature use of switching to super slow motion at heightened moments of action.

Snyder has taken his lumps for favoring style over substance at times. His adaptation of Alan Moore’s beloved “Watchmen” took some grief from purists over his changes to the story, and “Sucker Punch” was, to be kind, a hot mess.

For “300: Rise of an Empire” (adapted from a not-yet-complete Miller work, “Xerxes”), Snyder isn’t behind the director chair, though he’s still producing and co-writing. New director Noam Murro certainly does everything he can to still use the Snyder playbook.

The sequel focuses on a new hero — Gerard Butler wasn’t interested in returning, apparently — named Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). He’s leading outmatched Spartan forces against Persian god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his cunning military leader Artemisia (Eva Green).

The saturated colors and saturation of violence will sate fans of the original “300.” Battle scenes are splattered (literally) with the intended effects of weapons erupting like geysers of black oil. Oh, yes. There will be blood.

And, of course, speeches about rising up against insurmountable odds and homoerotic subtext. Stapleton is fine in the chest-baring lead, though he’s not as charismatic as Butler.

Green is a fiery villainess, an intimidating female presence in this man’s world — notably in a sex scene that will rank among the most bizarre of the year, at least until Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” Of course, it’s hard to miss the irony of a strong female character whom also is involved in a topless sword fight. We still have a long way to go for gender equality in film, huh?

Overall, I enjoyed the stylistic overdose of the original “300” far more than the been-there-done-that sequel, but it will scratch that same itch. The shift toward ancient navel warfare wasn’t as appealing to me, and the overload on screen still triggers my attention deficit disorder.