I had an interesting conversation with one of my fellow movie critic friends on the way out of “300.” He was just as excited to see it as I was, but afterwards, the first word he used to describe it was “lame,” that it was nothing but slo-mo swordplay and green screen work. I found this puzzling, since every trailer for the movie shows nothing but slo-mo swordplay and green screen work. Wasn’t the movie, then, exactly what the ads – the very things that got him so excited in the first place – proclaimed it to be? And if so, why was he so disappointed to get exactly what the movie promised?
In fairness to him, the movie, while gorgeously shot and assembled, is crazy silly. It’s bloodier than Mel Gibson’s most masturbatory fantasies, but what do you want from an adaptation of a Frank Miller graphic novel? These kinds of movies need their own scale of measurement, since they’re designed to look better than they read from the opening credits. If you’re looking for a comic book-style version of “Gladiator,” turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream, as John Lennon once said.
Gerard Butler stars as Leonidas, the king of the Greek city of Sparta, who receives word that the Persians are mounting an invasion of Greece. The Persian army grossly outnumber the Spartans’ (nearly a million to one, no joke), but they underestimate the Spartans’ pride by a country mile, and Leonidas sends a message to the Persian ruler Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) that he is not to be trifled with by literally killing Xerxes’ messenger. Leonidas has a plan to hold off the Persians by using a corridor by the ocean, and he brings 300 of the strongest, meanest Spartans with him to show the Persians that they will not go quietly. While he’s away, his wife Gorgo (Lena Headey) does her best to persuade the Greek council that they need to commit more troops to the effort before they’re all enslaved by Xerxes, but the only person who’s willing to listen is Theron (Dominic West), who has an agenda of his own.
There’s a saying that God is in the details, but in this case, that means that God is in the manner in which the bare breasts all possess nipples that stick out a good inch and change. This may be where my fellow critic started losing interest, since there was nothing erotic about any of the breast shots to begin with, and therefore made the filmmakers’ obsession with pointy nipples grossly gratuitous. Sure, it looks great, but what does it mean within the context of the movie? The political intrigue is not enough to balance the colorful swordplay either, since “Rome” absolutely takes them to school in the cutthroat-diplomacy department. Indeed, the dialogue mostly hangs in the air in that we’re-explaining-the-plot-here-so-pay-attention kind of way.
That brings us back to the battle sequences and the visuals, and let me tell you, they are everything you are expecting and more. They even have the nerve to kill the animals that their opponents ride in battle (you joke, but haven’t you noticed how no one would dare to get an advantage on a guy in a movie by killing his horse?). Yes, it’s almost entirely shot in slo-mo, but those slo-mo shots are sweet, usually consisting of lengthy one-take sequences that could not have been easy to choreograph.
To use a painfully overused cliché, “300” is what it is, an artfully assembled gorefest that features one person after another getting speared to death. I asked my colleague what he didn’t get from the movie that he was looking for, and he said, “More story.” That’s fair, I suppose, but the story he wanted was the political one, not the war story. Now, imagine “Gladiator” if it had contained more political intrigue than fighting. Doesn’t sound nearly as interesting, does it? That’s not to say that “300” couldn’t have used more story, but rather that movies like “300” don’t live and die by story alone. If you want blood, they’ve got it. If you want more than that, well, that’s your problem.(3.5 / 5)
This originally ran March 9, 2007 on Bullz-Eye.com.