What, exactly, is 300: Rise of an Empire, you ask - a sequel or prequel to Zack Snyder's 300 comic book movie? Well both, technically-speaking, as the film explores the backstory of Persian leader Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and reveals how he evolved into a power-hungry megalomaniac decked out in gold jewelry, before it moves ahead in time to Greek general Themistocles' (Sullivan Stapleton) efforts to form a strong defense against the invading Persian naval forces led by Artemisia (Eva Green), a battle-hardened warrioress with a big chip on her shoulder.
Of course, all this is going on at the same time that King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 Spartans faces off against the Persian's thousand-strong army on land. Butler won't be appearing in Rise of an Empire (not alive, anyway), but Lena Headey (Game of Thrones) is back as Queen Gorgo and has been a dominant presence in the marketing so far, including the newly-unveiled second U.S. trailer (though, the actress has indicated that her screen time in the film is far more limited than the previews have suggested).
The latest Rise of an Empire trailer even includes a scene between Themistocles and Gorgo, where the latter berates the young commander, afresh from having lost her husband and king on the battlefield. However, much of the footage is composed of CGI-enhanced clashes at sea, Xerxes' exotic palace surroundings and shots of topless men charging in slow-motion, while Green's Artemisia plots, schemes and seduces in order to achieve the vengeance she so dearly wants. (Vengeance for what? Well, you'll have to see the actual movie for that.)
Rise of an Empire was once against scripted by Snyder and 300 co-writer Kurt Johnstad, drawing inspiration from the Xerxes comic book that Frank Miller wrote (following the resounding success of the 300 comic book/movie). Fortunately, it seems as though Snyder and Johnstad have gone beyond Miller's questionable source material - sorry, but the legendary comic book author hasn't been at the top of his game for the past decade - and evolved the story into something more compelling than expected.
Bigger question is, will Rise of an Empire director Noam Murro (Smart People) be able to match Snyder's 300, when it comes to visual prowess and unadulterated brazen spirit? Well, the shorter answer is "probably not," seeing how the latter was such a revolutionary movie when it first released in 2007 that it continues to cast a shadow over every new film in the swords and sandals genre (see: the upcoming The Legend of Hercules); not an easy act to follow, to say the least.
In fact, that would make the decision to focus on Queen Gorgo and Artemisia all the smarter, where it concerns how to distinguish Rise of an Empire from its predecessor (i.e. by examining feminine power more than masculinity).
300: Rise of an Empire opens in U.S. theaters on March 7th, 2014.