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Movie review: '300: Rise of an Empire,' 1.5 stars

Eva Green in

Eva Green in "300: Rise of an Empire." Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

Directed by: Noam Murro

Starring: Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, Lena Headey

Rated: R

Eva Green runs away with "300: Rise of an Empire," dominating the screen with her gloriously over-the-top portrait of Persian Queen Artemisia. She could give a master class on the art of scenery chewing.

Of course, the Green effect hardly compensates for the bloated, slow-motion mess that is the rest of this sequel to the Gerard Butler-led megahit. That original effort is an unintentionally hilarious parade of digitized machismo; it is a movie defined by fake rippling abs and extravagant battles set against high-contrast digitized backdrops.

It didn't work, exactly, but it maintained a certain fidelity to Frank Miller's comic series and emerged with a strong nine-figure box office haul. You could say, at the very least, that there'd never been anything quite like it before, the apotheosis of the first wave of Hollywood's digital experimentation.

This time around, original director Zack Snyder ("Man of Steel") is replaced by Noam Murro, Butler and his 300 Spartans are effectively gone and the action shifts to the Persian invasions of Greece around 480 BC. Hero Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) leads the Greek defenses against the aforementioned Artemisia and returning god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).

There's more of the same in terms of the fetish aesthetic -- the characters dress like they came straight out of an S&M club. We get the tight slow-mo images of sweaty bodies, screaming warriors and primal destruction, the expressive backdrops that alternate between magic-hour simulations and funereal gray, and the ample gruesome violence.

But the movie plays less like a fun riff on ancient history than an unpleasant dirge. It's a single-minded slog through scenes of graphic warfare, as characters are sliced and diced in close-up, serving a borderline incomprehensible story that's about little more than people fighting people.

It's a wholly second-rate effort, save for the incomparable Green, who lights up the screen as she barks orders at her brawny compatriots, swaggers around observing her troops at war and plies Themistocles and Xerxes with her wily charms. If there's a third "300," they should just give it over to her.

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