Movie Reviews: '300: Rise of an Empire' and 'Mr. Peabody & Sherman'

PHOTO: This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Sullivan Stapleton in "300: Rise of an Empire."
Warner Bros. Pictures/AP Photo

With so many movies in the theater these days, ABC News wants to help you decide what's worth your money. This week, we take a look at two new films, "300: Rise of an Empire" and "Mr. Peabody & Sherman."

300: Rise of an Empire

Rated R, Three-and-a-half out of five stars

You walk out of "300: Rise of an Empire" feeling like you were just at a Gallagher show, only swap the watermelon remnants for fake movie blood. When the original "300" came out in 2006, the fancy 3D technology of today didn't exist, so this time around the filmmakers use every possible opportunity to make that blood fly right at you. I wouldn't be surprised if at least half of the film's budget was for red dye and corn syrup. Even the film's poster is a blood-red tidal wave enveloping the main character, Themistokles. Let that be a warning to all: the subtitle to this film should have been "There Will Be Blood."

Not that the target audience of "300: Rise of an Empire" will be complaining. They're going specifically for all of the blood, and severed limbs, and killer horses that graphically crush skulls beneath their hooves. And that crowd won't be disappointed. This orgy of battle-porn panders right to its audience without shame. But it's not a one-trick skull-crushing pony -- there's enough here to enjoy even for the friends or dates dragged unwillingly to see this sequel.

"300: Rise of an Empire" doesn't pick up where "300" left off, after the battle of Thermopylae. It focuses on another conflict happening at around the same time, involving clashes not between Spartans and Persians, but between the Greek and Persian navies. The story focuses on two new characters: the aforementioned Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton), who commands the Greek ships, and his beautiful but deadly Persian counterpart, Artemisia (Eva Green, last seen in "Dark Shadows").

We're meant to be rooting for the Greeks here, but Artemisia is by far the most interesting character in the story. She's a woman hell-bent on revenge, and Green does a great job portraying her as a dark, manipulative warrior who uses her sword, not her sexuality, to crush foes. In the hands of a less-skilled actress, Artemisia probably would have devolved into an overly sexualized cliché. The same could be said of returning Spartan Queen Gorgo, played again by Lena Headey. Though they're the only two women in the film, these ladies aren't relegated to the meek damsel-in-distress roles you normally find in movies like this.

Director Noam Murro also deserves kudos for being able to deliver Zack Snyder's trademark look and feel. Snyder wrote and directed "300" and serves as writer/producer this time around. But fans of the visually stunning and innovative original won't notice Snyder's absence from the director's chair -- which is pretty impressive, considering this is only Murro's second feature film. His first was the 2008 comedy "Smart People."

There's a lot to like in "300: Rise of an Empire." It looks great and delivers on the action, though personally, I would have enjoyed a little more heart to the story. I didn't really find myself emotionally involved at any point and some of the plot lines fail to connect, like a father and son we're supposed to care about. But this isn't "Gladiator," nor do I think that's what this is aspiring to be. "300: Rise of an Empire" is all about blood, battles and strong babes, and on that level it doesn't disappoint.

Oh, and for maximum enjoyment, see it in 3D. While I'm not typically a fan of the technology or the higher ticket prices, it's worth it here. The battle scenes are crisp and clear, and it's not hard to follow the action. Arrows and spears flying at your face, blood squirting past your head every couple of minutes -- this is what 3D was made for, right?

Mr. Peabody & Sherman

Rated PG, Three-and-a-half out of five stars

For most kids today, this will probably be their first run-in with the characters of Mr. Peabody and Sherman, who were first introduced in segments during the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" TV cartoons of the 1950s and 60s. Mr. Peabody, you may recall, is a glasses-wearing beagle that not only talks, he's the smartest creature to ever live. Sherman is his 7-year-old glasses-wearing adopted son. Together they live in a killer penthouse apartment in a big city. They also frequently travel back in time because, of course, Mr. Peabody invented a time machine. Remember, he's really smart.

The basic premise involves Peabody, Sherman, and Sherman's classmate, Penny, traveling back in time and experiencing famous moments in history first-hand: Hey, there's Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa! Whoops, we're in the middle of the Trojan War! Over there, is that Marie Antoinette? Let them eat cake! And so on.

The device is a sneaky way to make history fun for kids, kind of like cheese sauce on vegetables, and I bet most parents will probably appreciate a little extra learning tucked into a Saturday matinee. For kids, it won't feel like homework. There are plenty of jokes where various things fall out of various butts -- and let's be honest, many adults will enjoy that, too. Adults should also enjoy the distinct "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" vibe that happens whenever history and time travel are combined.

History lessons aren't the only thing "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" teaches: there are lessons about inclusion, bullying and name-calling, which parents may also appreciate. But they feel a little shoe-horned in and obvious. At one point, you may feel like there's a neon sign hanging over the movie, flashing, "THIS IS THE MORAL OF THE STORY."

Like most marquee animated films these days, "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" fulfills the unwritten animation rule that recognizable names must voice the characters. Modern Family's Ty Burrell stars as the title beagle, and at times you can hear the dorky dad from the ABC sitcom squeak through, though not in a distracting way. His daughter on the show, played by Ariel Winter, here plays Penny, the female foil to clumsy, earnest young Sherman, played with charming precociousness by 10-year-old Max Charles. Other familiar names jumping in on the action include Stephen Colbert, Leslie Mann, animation mainstay Patrick Warburton, Allison Janney, Stanley Tucci, and Mel Brooks in a brief appearance.

Animated movies today are pretty much required to work on two levels –- one that's goofy and silly and shiny enough to hold the attention of children for 90 minutes, and another that's hip and smart and a touch subversive enough to hold the attention of adults for the same amount of time. "Mr. Peabody & Sherman" strikes the right balance of bathroom jokes and historical humor. It lacks a bit of the originality of "The Lego Movie" and it doesn't have as much heart as "Frozen," so it likely won't become a classic or an Oscar nominee. But it will keep both children and parents entertained long after the popcorn is finished.

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