Two recent sword-and-sandal movies tackle historical events that happened in ancient times. I'd say you might learn something, but these CGI-heavy, testosterone-fueled movies are more likely to kill brain cells.

Two recent sword-and-sandal movies tackle historical events that happened in ancient times. I'd say you might learn something, but these CGI-heavy, testosterone-fueled movies are more likely to kill brain cells.

“300: Rise of an Empire” is a sequel of sorts to the 2007 blockbuster about King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 Spartan warriors. I mostly loved “300”, even though the constant narration sometimes reduced the movie to a campfire story. That's an even bigger problem in the sequel. It's bogged down by way too much exposition, and it never matches the first film's visual panache and exhilarating action.

The new movie takes place before, during and after the action of “300”. As Leonidas and his soldiers are fighting and dying their “beautiful” deaths, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), the Athenian general, is battling the Persians on different fronts, first in the Aegean Sea and later at the famous Battle of Salamis. His main adversary is Artemisia (Eva Green), the Persian naval commander.

In contrast to Butler's charismatic swagger, Stapleton is barely distinguishable from the other bearded, bare-chested guys in the cast. He's certainly not up to the task of acting opposite Green, who just about eats him and everyone else in this movie for breakfast. Fearsome and super sexy, she's the only one who's having any fun. Even Lena Headey, who frequently burns up the screen on “Game of Thrones”, can't produce much heat, not with laughable lines like “a wind of freedom, a wind of justice, a wind of vengeance.”

Kit Harrington (also of “Game of Thrones” fame) stars in another sword-and-sandal movie. As Milo in “Pompeii”, Harrington joins a long line of enslaved gladiators in this genre, from Spartacus to Maximus. Unlike “Spartacus” and “Gladiator”, “Pompeii” isn’t likely to win any Oscars. It's more of a guilty pleasure, but that’s not an insignificant accomplishment. Pleasure isn’t a word I’d associate with “300: Rise of an Empire”, unless we’re talking about some of the gamier scenes with Eva Green.

“Pompeii” is set before and during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The director, Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil”), takes full advantage of the cinematic possibilities of this story. The recreation of the city is gorgeous, and Anderson never lets us forget just how perilous this settlement was, with frequent shots that show the mountain looming in the background like a sleeping god.

This would have been a great movie had the volcanic eruption interrupted a powerful human drama. Instead, we get a shopworn boy-meets-girl story and an even more tired tale of vengeance involving a tyrannical senator (played to the hilt by Kiefer Sutherland). Before long we’re ready for a natural disaster to come along and wipe them all out, including Milo and his girl, Cassia (played by an alarmingly thin Emily Browning). When the moment arrives, the movie doesn’t disappoint. The final 30 minutes are an awesome real-life disaster spectacle on the level of “Titanic”, but Milo and Cassia are no Jack and Rose. This time, the historical calamity seems more like a blessing than a tragedy.