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This image released by Warner Bros Pictures shows Eva Green in ‘300: Rise of an Empire’. (AP)
‘300’ sequel faces tough sell Green saves film

LOS ANGELES, March 9, (Agencies): Selling “300: Rise of an Empire” was already going to be difficult even before its leading man went missing from promotional duties. Nearly all the main characters died in the original “300,” and it’s been seven long years since the heavily stylized and bloody Greeks-versus-Persians action film became a worldwide blockbuster. Then last month Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton, who plays the Athenian warrior-general Themistocles, was injured in Thailand seriously enough to drop out of a press junket, any potential talk show appearances and the Hollywood premiere. In addition, production on his HBO/Cinemax series “Strike Back” was postponed for six months to allow him time to recover.

“We miss Sully and we wish Sully was here today,” producer Deborah Snyder said at the premiere. “But he had an accident after leaving the set one night when he was filming ‘Strike Back’ so unfortunately he’s recovering.” Stapleton’s publicist declined to specify how or even when he was injured. Several cast members at the premiere said that while they had been in touch with the 36-year-old actor via email, they didn’t know what had happened to him.

The first “300,” directed and co-written by Zack Snyder from Frank Miller’s graphic novel, earned over $450 million worldwide. It helped make Gerard Butler a star and featured an appearance from then little-known Michael Fassbender. Its signature aesthetic, highlighting muscular real-life bodies against mythical computer-generated backgrounds, is repeated in the 3D sequel. The year is 480 BC. Greek city-states are defending against a Persian invasion by sea at around the same time as the land-based Spartan fighting in the first film. Rodrigo Santoro returns as menacing Persian king Xerxes, but Eva Green hijacks the film with her unhinged, aggressive performance as his ally Artemisia, a Persian warrior-queen.

Scared
“She’s such an extreme character. I think lots of men are going to be scared of me from now on, said Green, the French and British actress perhaps best known for her role in “Casino Royale.” Artemisia is the latest in a string of dark — and skin-baring — roles for the 33-year-old actress, who also played a witch opposite Johnny Depp in 2012’s “Dark Shadows.” “It always has to be justified. It can’t be gratuitous or otherwise I would be a porn star,” she said, laughing. “I’m like a little bird in real life so that’s why I enjoy playing those ladies.” Green, next starring in the Showtime horror series “Penny Dreadful,” says whatever audiences may think of her shipboard sword-twirling in “300,” she’s ready to fight for something else back in Hollywood: a lighter role. “I hope I won’t be typecast forever as the bitch,” she said. “In this business, people put you in boxes . because they lack imagination. So you have to be a warrior.”

“300: Rise of an Empire” hit theaters last week and critics are mixed on whether its bloody gore is a bore or leaves them wanting more. But they seem to agree on one thing: Green. The actress stars as Persian navy commander Artemisia, who has a taste for Greek blood as a result of a rough childhood during which she was enslaved by Spartans, who killed her family. “‘Rise of an Empire” is all Eva Green’s show, and she clearly relishes the opportunity to not only match but exceed her male counterparts’ supposedly indefatigable toughness,” TheWrap’s Todd Gilchrist wrote in his review. “Though Green sees more action in this film than Headey’s Queen Gorgo did in ‘300,’ the earlier heroine offered a promising template for female leadership, commanding respect while always remembering her place in this man’s world. But Green demolishes the era’s gender dynamics with a performance that plays like an act of revenge upon all of the b.s. love-interest roles she’s ever been offered.” With 42 reviews tallied on Rotten Tomatoes, Green’s performance is helping director Noam Murro’s sequel to Zack Snyder’s 2006 action film teeter toward a “fresh” rating - although it’s 57 percent “rotten,” at the moment.

Ripped
For Village Voice critic Stephanie Zacharek, it’s Green who saves the film from being a mere replica of its predecessor, since a ripped Greek hero once again rallies troops to battle invading forces sent by mortal-turned-god Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). “Though it isn’t exactly a sequel, ‘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,” Zacharek wrote. “Her over-the-topness — and, in one scene, her resplendent toplessness - really gets ‘Rise of an Empire’ cooking.”

Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty gave the Warner Bros.’ R-rated release a B grade. He credits Green for goosing “the repetitive carnage into something deliciously sinister,” and applauds Murro for topping the impressive visual style Snyder brought to the screen nearly a decade ago. “Director Noam Murro uses 3-D to up the wow factor even further,” Nashawaty wrote. “There’s so much crimson gore flying off the screen you feel as if you should be wearing a tarp like the folks in the front row of a Gallagher show.” Arizona Republic critic Bill Goodykoontz also thinks Green is “the best thing about the movie, by far,” but one strong character is not enough to save the big picture from sinking like Greek ships in a far-too-bloody sea.

“Hilariously over-the-top when it comes to gruesome, 3-D violence and woefully underserved when it comes to story, ‘300: Rise of an Empire,’ is pretty much what the original ‘300’ was: a wish-fulfillment fantasy for the juiced-up bodybuilding crowd,” Goodykoontz wrote. “Fans of gratuitous, slow-motion disembowelings will also find much to enjoy. The blood looks like it’s sloshing onto the camera! Everyone else, however, will go away grossed out or disappointed, probably both.” Associated Press critic Jake Coyle had similar thoughts. “This may be war by sea, but the ingredients of ‘300’ are largely unaltered. An outnumbered band of Greeks staves off a tyrannical Persian army below roiling skies of red and gray. Manly honor is fetishized to a comical degree. Blood spills like soup,” Coyle wrote. “These two films, very much intertwined, provoke a number of questions: Did everyone forget their shirts? Is this a workout video? Or is this just the most absurdly ridiculous thing ever?”

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