If this is where so-called “epics” are headed, count me out. Ugly, lunk-headed, and apparently written by a middle school class, 300 is just the kind of “visionary epic” that studios love to hype this time of year as a precursor to the summer movie season. Padded with so much slow-motion that John Woo is now a conservative in the department and gussied up with a visual technique that outstays its welcome by the twenty-minute point, 300 is poorly-executed, bare-bones storytelling that is hoping and praying no one notices. I did.
The bulk of the film concerns the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas (Butler) led his army of 300 Spartans against well over 100,000 Persians, under the command of King Xerces (Rodrigo Santoro). Holed up in a canyon for three days of battle, the Spartans knew they were in for a suicide mission, but their stand is said to have inspired all of Greece to fight the Persians and create their own democracy. Back at the Spartan homeland there is a political crisis brewing over just how necessary Leonidas’ battle is (any of this sound familiar?) Queen Gorgo (Headey) must fend off the masses while being betrayed by Theron (an overacting job by Dominic West that better be nominated for a Razzie) as a whore. Intermixed are a double-crossing hunchback and a completely unnecessary sex scene that proves, once and for all, that prosthetic nipples were all the rage pre-Christ.
Beginning with just enough exposition to establish the Spartans as the heroes and everyone else the villains (even though Leonidas kicks an innocent Persian messenger down a conveniently located well – a violation of law and the spark that starts the fire), 300 wastes no time is getting to the rousing speeches from Leonidas and the endless spear battles that are initially fascinating, but grow tiring quickly. Repetitive and soaked in blood that looks like that of the Mortal Kombat series circa 1995, the battles are shockingly bereft of emotion and plentiful in unintentional laughter. The video game comparisons don’t stop there: each mini-battle has its own super boss for the Spartans to defeat. Those who required a parent or guardian loved it.
300’s ultimate downfall, however, is that it is way too self-righteous for its own good. Director Zack Snyder is completely to blame as he has translated Miller’s source material with a stone-faced mentality, most likely to please faithful readers. Since the vast majority of moviegoers will not have read Miller’s novels, this is a critical error. Worse yet, and likely more offensive, is the way the screenplay chooses to be both homo-erotic and homophobic in an effort to make sure teenage boys don’t feel like they have to sit one seat apart. Spare us.
As a full-time web developer (it pays the bills), I often have clients tell me to just put “lipstick” on an existing project. This means take something that isn’t good and improve it. 300 is all lipstick with no base, and as a start to the blockbuster film season, it couldn’t be much worse.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 117 Minutes
Rating: R for graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity.
Theatrical Release: March 9, 2007
Directed by: Zack Snyder
Written by: Zack Snyder & Kurt Johnstad & Michael Gordon. Based upon the graphic novels by Frank Miller & Lynn Varley.
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender