Plot: Well, first of all, there's very little accurate history in the plot. Not surprising, given the kind of fantastical film it is, but just don't go in expecting to learn all kinds of cool facts.
The story itself moves at a good pace, never stalling, and overall I liked it more than I expected to.
Effects: Definitely didn't skimp on the gore for this film. Good ole Zack Snyder. As with it's 300 predecessor, and shows like Starzz's Spartacus, there was a whole lot of less-than-realistic blood spurting about in slow-mo. That sort of thing doesn't bother me. (Mostly I just have to chuckle and shake my head) but do know that this film is full of R-rated gore. You've been warned.
Characters: Themistocles was a convincing character, and likable. The actor who portrayed him (Sullivan Stapleton) was a complete unknown to me, but I had no complaints. Lena Heady reprized her role as Queen Gorgo. It's kind of weird to see her in things other than Game of Thrones, now. I've gotten so used to the blond hair, and her voice seriously never changes. She wasn't exactly front and center in the film, but I did like that, near the end, we got to see, through her, just how much the Spartan women were warriors as well.
It's was pretty cool.
And I was warned about the angry sex between Artemisia (Eva Green) and Themistocles. Watch out for the nudity. There definitely is some. It was a supremely awkward scene, not only for what happened but because it was between two mortal enemies. Personally, I really don't understand that. But, I suppose it added to the good/evil tension between them.
Let's talk about Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) for a minute. While I didn't have a problem with the story at large, and the back story shown at the beginning of the movie was actually really good, I do think they did Xerxes' character (more than that, his villain-ness) a disservice. They made it so that he was actually a product of Artemisia. She made him, had his loyalty, all but commanded him (and sometimes did exactly that). I liked Xerxes better when he was the big, crazy, twisted bad guy. He was just a better villain. He's not even the main villain in this film. Rather, he just sort of sits on the sidelines, posing on his throne and acting like the chains attached to his nose are the coolest accessory since breastplates. I was not a big fan of this aspect of the film.
Other favorite actors such as David Wenham and Hans Matheson also made appearances. Like Lena Heady, David Wenham reprized his role here. Also like her, he wasn't a major part of the story, but their presence served to tie this film to it's predecessor, and I liked seeing him. I thought it was a great thing to include.
Compared to the original 300: I still think I liked the original better. It had all those great one liners ("...Then we shall fight in the shade..." *mind blown*) that just made the film. While Themistocles did give a pretty great (read: quotable) speech at the height of the film, it just didn't have the same lasting impact as the first movie did. And, if we're being honest, I did really miss my buddy Leonidas.
That said, I really did enjoy the film, more than I would have thought. If you were a fan of the first 300, you'll like this one well enough.
Has anyone else seen 300: Rise of an Empire? What did you think of it, compared to the first?