Hollywood could use a new Angelina Jolie — or rather, they could use the old Angelina Jolie, the rebellious, sex-mad Angelina we had before she reinvented herself as a beatifically smiling humanitarian goddess. Where are the avid actresses who can stride on-screen and conquer with a flick of their finger, who can use their carnal craziness to enliven the most unimaginative of B movies, who can size up their male leads with an “I will fuck you and eat you, and not necessarily in that order” stare? Unto this breach comes this weekend’s 300: Rise of an Empire, and while the sorta-sequel might at first seem more than sorta superfluous, by the time its female lead Eva Green is engaging in the movie’s centerpiece sex scene, you’ll know its purpose: The wild-eyed Green is serving us vintage Jolie on a platter, and the film (and Hollywood) is all the better for it.
In Rise of an Empire, Green plays Artemisia, a Persian commander leading the charge against Greek general Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). Though Greek herself, Artemisia has long vowed revenge against her own people: As a child, her village was burned to the ground, her mother was raped in front of her, and then young Artemisia was sold into slavery. Rescued by the king of Persia, she soon becomes a fearsome warrior, and Green gives her all to the eye-popping part, purring entreaties, shouting orders, and kissing severed heads in short order. Artemisia is ostensibly the film’s villain, but her motives are so understandable and Green’s charisma is so all-consuming that when one battle sequence concludes with Artemisia seemingly slaughtering all of our heroes a third of the way through the movie, you kind of have to hand it to her. She deserved that win!
But of course, Themistocles and his army can’t be that quickly dispatched, and as the movie nears its halfway point, it is decided: He and Artemisia will negotiate a sit-down in the middle of the sea to determine whether war can be averted, or at least altered. The two of them meet face to face deep below deck in Artemisia’s quarters — a détente rather like the Pacino/De Niro sit-down in Heat — and attempt to talk it out. When that fails to move the needle much, Themistocles and Artemisia instead do what more protagonists and antagonists ought to do in movies like this: They have wild, knock-down, shake-the-rafters sex.
There’s punching. There’s hair-pulling. There’s even mild choking! The subtext of their battle sequences, the fight to come out on top, is literally wrought in this assignation as both Themistocles and Artemisia toss each other around and jostle for dominance. The film would like us to believe that it’s a draw between them, but this is no contest: The wildly charismatic Green, who proved her sexual bona fides in The Dreamers and Casino Royale, positively dwarfs the mild Stapleton. By the time she’s topless and swinging a sword — the sort of provocative pose that Greeks might sculpt into stone were Artemisia not busy trying to kill them all — Green has given us a sex scene for the ages, the sort of buzzed-about encounter usually reserved for premium cable instead of the multiplex.
Returned to his curious men afterwards, Themistocles is quizzed about the encounter, and he’s utterly speechless, earning one of this very serious movie’s few big laughs. But from then on, Green’s crazy sexual verve powers each showdown, and when Themistocles and Artemisia lock eyes in the final battle — across a sea of warships, mind you — it’s as romantic as it is dangerous. Once they eventually cross that sea and begins to cross their blades, she leans in, smiles, and says, “You fight much harder than you fuck.” That, people, is how you say “I love you” in ancient Greece.