By Vic Holtreman
Short version: Pretty close to being the ultimate "guy movie."
I've waited a long time to see 300, the movie inspired by Frank Miller's graphic novel about the Spartans. If nothing else, based on the trailers I was expecting a movie that at least visually, would blow me away. My only concern going in was that I had heard that there were WAY too many slow-motion scenes... in fact that every single battle sequence was in slow-mo. On the plus side, if ever there seemed to be a film that would connect directly into the testosterone center of the male brain this looked like it was going to be it.
For the most part, it delivers big time.
300 tells the (no doubt highly romanticized) story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., where King Leonidas of Sparta made a stand against the self-proclaimed god-king of Persia and his massive army. Leonidas had 300 Spartan warriors and a few hundred other Greek conscripts as back up to go up against an army purported to be one million men strong.
Via narration the film opens with a short history lesson about Sparta and it's people, and you immediately get a sense of who they are. There are no wimps or physically inferior people in this civilization... only the strong are allowed to live. Both the men and women are forceful, proud people, with some male children destined to become ultimate warriors who begin training as soon as they can walk.
We see Leonidas (played with great gusto by Gerard Butler) as a seven year old in combat training where his instructor pulls no punches, and then at about 10 or 12 years old where he undergoes the rite of passage in the wild. He will either return as a man or he will not return at all. Cut to him at 40 and as king, where he and his beautiful wife Queen Gorgo (played by Lena Headey) obviously rule together. A messenger from the king of Persia comes to tell Leonidas he must kneel before King Xerxes (played by the insanely tall Rodrigo Santoro) and submit to Persian rule. Leonidas gives a typical Spartan response when he refuses... with feeling.
Sure, there is some political maneuvering going on as part of the story back in Sparta, where the Queen tries to convince the council to send the rest of the Spartan army to reinforce the 300, and there are a couple of erotic nude scenes to keep the male audience happy (that Oracle... woah). And the reason for the politics is that King Leonidas went against the wishes of the council and the creepy, lecherous and leperous high priests in deciding to attack the Persian army. He takes 300 men to face King Xerxes at Thermopylae, where a narrow canyon will allow him to hold off the hordes of invaders with relatively few men. And this, my friends is why you go see this movie.
But the BATTLE is what 300 is all about.
The fight scenes in this movie are incredible... the word "glorious" comes to mind. Yes, there is a lot of slow motion but it serves to accentuate the battle. It's mesmerizing to watch this small band of men go against everything Xerxes throws at them. No matter what, they don't back down. They take on regular foot soldiers, archers, creepy "immortals" who are Xerxes elite fighting force, a wierd giant mutant guy who apparently doesn't understand that getting stabbed hurts and is supposed to stop you, and on up from there. These men led by King Leonidas are the very definition of "Never Say Die."
The only thing that kept this movie from getting a NC-17 rating for violence is the fact that it's shot in sepia tones and the blood that appears onscreen look black (as it did in Lord of the Rings). And there is a LOT of blood.
Now I'm not a big critic of the MPAA, but there are some things they decide that are just plain silly as far as I'm concerned. You can have gore galore in a movie, but as long as the blood isn't red they'll cut it some slack. Wierd, but I digress.
Aside from the amazing battles, I enjoyed the performances of the leads. Butler was intense and feral when required, yet still had a quiet side as Leonidas. David Wenham (who played Faramir in Lord of the Rings) does a somber job as Leonidas friend and the narrator, and Lena Headey as Leonidas' queen was both beautiful and strong onscreen, plus with an outfit or two that rivals the famous Princess Leia metal "slave bikini." :-)
I've also never seen such a huge collection of six-pack abs outside of a bodybuilder competition. I imagine that Gold's Gym and 24 Hour Fitness are going to see spikes in new membership numbers for the next couple of weeks as this movie makes millions of coach potato men feel physically insignificant as they stuff popcorn in their faces.
On the negative side, I thought the film went on a bit too long and started to run out of steam towards the end. The political aspect of the film that takes place back in Sparta was not compelling when compared to what was going on at the battlefield. Much like watching an American Idol performance where a big finish can make you forget the mediocre beginning and middle, I had to remember how great the first 80% of 300 was and not judge it only on how it felt towards the end.
Overall, a great ride that will get you fired up if you're a guy, and although it's very bloody I suppose there is lots of eye candy for the ladies. :-)