As we learned in the original 300 film in 2006, the Spartans are steely warriors. But 300: Rise of an Empire proves that they're not the only ancient Greeks who could fight.

The Athenians, commanded by General Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton of TV's Strike Force), were also battling the overwhelming might of the invading Persians, but primarily on the sea.

Themistokles' troops may not be trained. They're "a bunch of farmers . . . and poets and sculptors." But it's obvious they haven't let their gym memberships lapse. They look a lot more like Macho Man Randy Savage than they do Robert Frost.

Their primary adversary is the diabolical Persian general Artemisia (Eva Green of Quantum of Silence). Green is awesome as an evil harpie of vengeance.

Apart from some intermittent scenes from the returning Lena Headey, Green's the only person doing any real acting in the film, but her over-the-top performance is enough for a cast of thousands.

Israeli director Noam Murro does an excellent job of managing and expanding the franchise established so vividly by Zach Snyder.

With its slo-mo ultraviolence, gushers of blood, impressive 3-D effects, homoerotic subtext, and self-important plot, this is a fan boy's fantasy, a four-star wonderment.

For less rabid moviegoers, 300: Rise of an Empire still makes a strong statement, albeit a dark and bloody one that lasts a good deal longer than it should.

300: Rise of an Empire ** 1/2 (out of four stars)

Directed by Noam Murro. With Sullivan Stapleton, Eva Green, and Lena Headey. Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Running time: 1 hour, 42 mins.

Parent's guide: R (strong violence, sex, nudity, profanity)

Playing at: area theatersEndText

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