(2014) An unusually cruel crimson action drama based on historical events and as fantasy on Frank Miller's graphic novel Xerxes - screenplay by Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad - directed by Noam Murro, smeared in blood. "Ten years ago, this war began," Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headley), wife of King Leonidas, narrates of the Greco-Persian Wars, referring to the earlier Persian invasion of 490 BCE, "as all wars begin: with a grievance."
At Marathon the Persians led by King Darius (Igal Naor) attacked the Athenians, fighting for an idea of being free men in a democracy, in a gory battle (alternating fast and slo-mo) of severed limbs spurting red and decapitations. Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) let loose an arrow that made him a legend, mortally wounding Darius.
On his deathbed, Darius warns his son Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) not to make the same mistake: "Leave the ignoble Greeks to their ways. Only the gods can defeat them." But Artemisia (Eva Green) in her "flawless manipulation" assures Xerxes otherwise: "Your father's words were not a warning but a challenge…. You will be a god-king."
Returning from wandering in the desert where he entered a hermit's cave, into the darkness of all men's souls, surrendering himself completely to powers of evil and perversion, "Xerxes was reborn a god." Artemisia, herself born a Greek - rumors speak of her entire family having been raped and murdered by a squad of Greek hoplites who then abused her before abandoning her - eliminates everyone who had been his kin, friend, or ally. Eventually rescued and trained by Persians, her skills and gift with a sword are unmatched.
To calls from his fellow Athenians for a negotiated truce with the Persians, Themistokles the hero of Marathon replies: "Negotiate with tyranny? Give me one example of when that has ever profited a nation." Instead, he urges a coalition of ships from the city-states. Personally he makes an appeal to Queen Gorgo, having already dismissed a Persian messenger's offer of alliance, but Sparta takes no interest in helping Themistokles achieve his dream of a united Greece.
While King Leonidas with 300 Spartans has gone north to Thermopylae to meet the Persian army, in the Aegean, Gen Bandari vows to Artemisia, his naval commander, the destruction of the smaller fleet of Greek ship under Themistokles's command, who rallies his "brotherhood of men in arms" to courage against the greater armada. "Ram them!" he orders as archers and spearmen prepare their onslaught.
From the bravery of his Greek warriors he demonstrates to the Persians "fear of freedom." Themistokle's clever tactics, deception in the fog, luring the larger Persian vessels into narrows of rock, cost Artemisia hundreds of ships. Skulls are crushed, bones shattered, torsos torn asunder while an excessive exaggeration of gushing blood splatters the camera lens.
Through her messenger Gen Artaphernes, she requests a parlay with the Athenian admiral in neutral waters on her "humble barge," where she attempts to seduce him into taking her side: "I'm in need of a commander such as you. Look at the defenses you've mounted. A handful of triremes. Leonidas with 300 Spartans. It's insulting, frankly, that the mightiest empire the world has ever seen is met by this."
What compels him, she inquires, to fight with such passion? "You fight for freedom," she acknowledges: "I offer freedom without consequence or responsibility. Join me at my side. Breathe each breath with me as if it were your last." Following a violent sexual encounter, she declares: "You're not god. You're just a man."
A third confrontation in sea battle, the Persians sending swimming suicide bombers along with spilling oil into the sea and setting it ablaze, is "turning young men into memories," grieves Aeskylos (Hans Matheson). Word arrives that the Hot Gates have fallen, where Leonidas made his stand to the last Spartan soldier.
"I chose to play a dangerous game," admits Themistokles, "and I lost …" Next Athens is razed. According to the Oracle, only wooden ships can save the Athenians. What remains of his navy floats in the Bay of Salamis with no room for retreat as Artemisia's flotilla bears down.
Illustrated scenes from the movie accompany scarlet-lettered end credits.
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