Much like the brave but ultimately doomed Spartan soldiers of “300,” Eva Green might have been up against insurmountable odds in her role as Artemisia in “300: Rise of an Empire,” Noam Murro’s sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2007 hit.
Film critics agree that Green’s performance as the villainess Artemisia is the best part of the sword-and-sandal spectacle, but they said even she can’t save it from mediocrity.
The Times’ Betsy Sharkey wrote, “The one to watch is Artemisia, and not just because Green gets the best costumes -- leather and chainmail has rarely been as fetching -- but because her character is as tactical a warrior as Themistokles [Sullivan Stapleton, the movie’s hero], and she has a grudge to match.” Sharkey added that Green’s fight choreography is “incredible” and that “you couldn’t ask for a more magnetic villain.”
On the other hand: “For all of its hyper-realized visuals, ‘Rise of an Empire’ is a very talkie film,” which isn’t a good thing, because many of the other actors aren’t on the level of Green or costar Lena Headey, who reprises her role as Sparta’s Queen Gorgo.
The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday said Murro pays “alternately crude and canny fealty to Snyder’s hyperventilating original.” She added that “this chapter is a dull, monochromatic affair, its dingy gray palette barely enlivened by syrupy blood that spurts, squirts and gushes with metronomic regularity.”
On the other hand, “the film does feature at least one genuinely memorable performance by Eva Green, here playing Persian naval genius Artemisia with such gothic bloodlust that the only things she’s missing are fangs and a coffin to sleep in.”
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle said Murro, a novice action director, “overcompensates for his inexperience,” and “‘300: Rise of an Empire’ becomes a succession of battle scenes, filmed in tight medium shots, so that all you see is commotion.”
LaSalle added, “The movie’s one genuine point of interest is perverse, and that’s Eva Green’s performance as the evil Artemisia, the naval commander heading the Persian attack on the Greek city states. With her black hair, pale white skin and murderous ways, she looks like the women in Edvard Munch’s lithographs and acts like a vampiric femme fatale of the early 20th century.”
The Village Voice’s Stephanie Zacharek was more enthusiastic about the movie -- as she was about Green -- writing that “‘Rise of an Empire’ might have been essentially more of the same, but for one distinction that makes it 300 times better than its predecessor: Mere mortals of Athens, Sparta, and every city from Mumbai to Minneapolis, behold the magnificent Eva Green, and tremble!”
Green, she said, “is a far better actress than she’s usually given credit for,” and here “takes the dialogue seriously but gives each line a mischievous tweak.”
Finally, the Chicago Tribune’s Michael Phillips described “Rise of an Empire” as “a series of moderately diverting battles on the roiling Aegean, at full ramming speed. The look of sophomore director Noam Murro’s picture, photographed by ‘Great Gatsby’ cinematographer Simon Duggan in the original ‘300' film’s trademark two-tone palette, never for a second intends to impart a sense of realism. This is digital fake-ism all the way. Audiences bought it the first time; they’re likely to buy it a second time.”
He added, “It wouldn’t be much without Green."