Darren Franich
April 12, 2013 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Digital animation, ripped abs, ultraviolence: The original 300 was a game-changing megahit in 2007, with a $450 million global gross that practically invented the idea of the March blockbuster. A sequel was inevitable. Just one problem: Most of the characters didn’t make it out alive. So Rise of an Empire tells a parallel story focused on the naval battles between the Persians and the Athenians. 300 director Zack Snyder co-wrote the screenplay (which is based on Xerxes, Frank Miller’s as-yet-unreleased graphic novel) and tapped Noam Murro (Smart People) to direct.

Meanwhile, Rodrigo Santoro and Lena Headey reprise their roles as Persian God-King Xerxes and Spartan Queen Gorgo. But it’s Eva Green as Artemisia, the only female commander in Xerxes’ navy, who takes center stage this time. ”She’s kind of a Lady Macbeth/Cleopatra character,” says Green. ”She’s obsessed by vengeance and wants to go to war with the Greeks.” Midbattle, she meets Athenian general Themistokles (Strike Back star Sullivan Stapleton). ”He’s my archenemy, but there’s a very strong attraction,” says Green. ”If they’d been in another kind of situation, it might have been a romantic story.” Alas, they’ll have to settle for passionate combat.

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