Brutality, brawn and blood make for an entertaining, shallow watch.
"THIS. IS. SPARTAAAAAAAA!" bellows a jacked up Gerard Butler before kicking a Persian messenger down a well and commencing Sparta's great stand against the monolithic Persian army.
Moments like this one are sprinkled throughout the latest film from Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead), 300, a tale adapted from Frank Miller's (Sin City) graphic graphic novel, which itself is loosely adapted from the historical legend. 300 is the tale of Sparta's great stand at Thermopylae against Persian tyranny.
The aforementioned Butler plays the Spartan King Leonidas, a heroic leader who commands the world's best trained army. A beloved leader, he also fights right alongside his men. His lady, Queen Gorgo, is played by Lena Headey, a strong-willed woman who speaks her mind and supports her husband's violent ways 'till the end. Rodrigo Santoro is the Persian King/God Xerxes, an androgynous and imposing figure, adorned in piercings and jewelry from head to toe. The supporting cast includes Dominic West, David Wenham and Vincent Regan.
Stylistically incredible and emotionally vapid
300 is a visual masterpiece. Using techniques similar to Sin City, Zack Snyder and crew shot the entire movie within sound stages in Montreal, an all-in-one training and shooting locale where actors underwent a harsh physical program to build those abs everyone is talking so much about and also to prepare for the demanding action of shooting the film itself. On set, it didn't look like much (I visited the set back in December of 2005). What I saw was a bunch of super-fit guys racing around within small rooms lined with green screens, but what's been achieved since by the artistic team that brought Frank Miller's beautifully illustrated work to life on screen is nothing short of spectacular. Every frame of 300 is a work of art; even the blood (which there is a lot of) has its own kind of Jackson Pollack-esque beauty.
The action is intense and brutal. It's often and it's entertaining. Swords crash against shields, slice limbs and plunge through hearts. Arrows whoosh through the sky and pierce flesh. Muscle-bound men collide with slightly less muscle-bound men and fight to the death. The action is great and it drives 300 from start to finish. This is a man's movie. A lot of blood, a lot of ass-kicking and not a whole lot else.
But then, the "not a whole lot else" part is also the problem of 300. Whereas similar battle-driven "historical" tales such as Braveheart or Gladiator develop memorable lead characters that drive the story, 300 is more about the fighting and less about the story or character development. And that's not to say that Gerard Butler isn't great in the movie. He is. This is likely to be his star-making turn.
But King Leonidas is a one-dimensional character. He's brave and tough and cares about defending his people, but as he rages forward, grimacing in battle and slicing limbs, you are more so just enjoying the spectacle than truly caring whether he makes it out alive or not.
This lack of empathy for the characters is really the core problem of 300. It's stylistically incredible and emotionally vapid; Fun and entertaining to watch, but without substance. Whereas Braveheart is still discussed and fondly remembered, 300 is forgettable. The ongoing buzz for the film generally refers to the look and the blood, both of which are plentiful and well-done.
Still, 300 is a movie I'd recommend. It's fun. It's a popcorn summer action movie, even if it is coming out in March. It's not deep, but it's certainly never boring. As long as you don't expect a deep exploration of history and the men behind the Spartan legend, and as long as you don't mind a little (or a lot) of blood, then you should have a good time at 300.