On Tuesday, February 4, Warner Bros. premiered footage from their upcoming “300: Rise of an Empire” to fans of the series in ten cities across the country. Set for release nationwide March 7, the prequel sets up the events of the 2006 original, bringing back the characters of Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and Dilios (David Wenham) while introducing Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) and Persian warlord Artemisia (Eva Green).
The event began with a video introduction by Headey, who instructed attendees to put on their 3D glasses and put away their mobile devices, adding, “you know how Spartans deal with those who betray their trust.” Opening on the ravaged battlefield where Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his men lay defeated, the film quickly cuts to a wooden barge floating in the middle of the ocean, where Queen Gorgo attempts to rouse the crew.
Gorgo explains the origins of the violent war between the Persians and the Greeks, which started during a battle between the two sides years before Leonidas and his men ever entered into the conflict. She reveals that Greek general Themistocles fought bravely through a horde of soldiers on the shores of a great ocean, and then shot a lone arrow at one of the approaching Persian ships. Striking their king Darius (Igal Naor), he mortally wounds their leader, despite the best efforts of his son Xerxes to intervene.
Wracked with grief, Xerxes agrees to obey his father’s final wishes — give up battle with the Greeks, who he claims can only be defeated by the gods. But Darius’ calculating warlord Artemisia prevails upon Xerxes and suggests that his father’s words were a challenge to become a god himself. Sent into the desert wrapped in bandages dipped in magic potions, he eventually happens upon a cave where he succumbs to the evil designs of its inhabitants.
Dipping into the waters of a golden pool, he emerges as the superhuman Xerxes audiences know. He then returns to his homeland to announce his identity to the Persian people, rallying his foot soldiers by declaring war on the Greeks.
The same sort of mythmaking that made the original “300” such an iconic film is present in “Rise of an Empire” — which means that the speed-cranked style is back as well. Director Noam Murro leans heavily on slow-motion during the opening battle, but also uses handheld camera work to give it an energy that distinguishes it from the first film. Meanwhile, the violence is as graphic as ever, and it’s hard to remember the last time so much blood was spilled during a fight sequence.
After Headey did such a great job making Gorgo a formidable equal to Leonidas, it’s encouraging to see a similar sort of egalitarian attitude toward female characters in the Persian armies, vis a vis Green’s Artemisia. Her seduction of Xerxes feels more sophisticated than some others because she doesn’t woo him physically; rather, she turns his father’s words into an opportunity for empowerment, even if she cannot seem to predict — or maybe we discover that she can — what he will become. As a counterbalance to the physical and emotional dynamic of the Greek relationships, the film promises to have compelling, mythic foundations which will undoubtedly be realized with lots of Machiavellian scheming, and lots more waves of blood and severed body parts, documented in gloriously slow motion.
Following the presentation, attendees were treated to an encore presentation, in IMAX, of the original “300.” Whether or not the new film offers the same kind of “madness” as Snyder’s film, “Rise of an Empire” has plenty going for it already — because as a seamless prequel, audiences are already, and indisputably, going to see the same Sparta.
Based on the graphic novel by , “300: Rise of an Empire” opens March 7 in theaters.