I expected to experience three things from Zack Snyder's 300, the in-your-face alternative history romp that's based on Frank Miller's graphic novel: boobs, battles, and boisterous music. So, in that regard, I was not disappointed. But after the thirtieth slow-motion, ultra-choreographed, and goretastic battlefield scene I began to lose interest with it all. Like all movies based on chunks of history (Pearl Harbor, The Alamo, World Trade Center, and yuck, Titantic), the ending is often known beforehand. I expected all 300 Spartans to die before the credits rolled. I also expected to care that they died (not shed a tear, of course, as this is a manly Frank Miller flick and there's no crying in baseball). Ultimately, I left dry-eyed but rather unmoved.
300 is concerned with the Battle of Thermopylae, a historical event made by men that were as proud and mighty as legends get. The King of Sparta, Leonidas (played by roaring Gerard Butler), decides to lead his army of 300 (or so) soldiers against the tremendous number of Persians that mean to enslave them. King Xerxes, a demigod glittered in fine jewelry, is out to becoming King of Kings, so to speak. It is this battle that will shake all of Greece, eventually hard enough to get them to band together to fight against the Persians and bring out the world's first democracy.
It's David and Goliath times 100,000 Persians, and David and Goliath is a fine tale of the little man conquering the more massive. It works on different layers and can be thoroughly entertaining if set up correctly and handled with an eye toward more quietly thematic scenes than repetitive hack-and-slashes that continue to prove that, yes, tiny men can cut down larger men. It's all in that Spartan training, you know. But 300 doesn't do this well. Instead it seems more concerned with style and finesse, which, I will admit, are near perfect. The art style is consistent (everything is washed in a deep sepia, but my favorite scene involved a flowing oracle as she moved in streams of white and blue and purple smoke) and there's a sharp attention to detail. Not historical detail, but minute details. There were no war rhinos back then. Sorry, just didn't happen.
Character development is what was really missing from 300. We're following a group of Spartans who, we've been told via voiceover, are raised by the roughest rules and trained to be heartless killing machines. They are more than willing to toss a weak child off a cliff than work at it and train the boy to be strong. So when the moment comes that a man loses his son in battle everyone is expected to stop, drop, and emote. Wouldn't Spartan law consider the boy weak for dying? Wouldn't he be frowned upon or made an example of? Here, it's not touched on as this is a movie and no one probably wants to see a father not care after his boy is taken out by some random Persian. So we're supposed to care. But it's hard when you know no one's name or history, and that's the problem. We learn very little of Leonidas and of his comrades. Each one seemed to fill their quota of "ready for glory" cheese lines, and then they died.
The movie flip-flops from the battles to the more subdued events taken part by Queen Gorgo (played by the beautiful Lena Headey), as she tries to rally the people of Sparta to go out and support their king. But no, they can't, it's festival week, or something like that. She does one thing well, and proves that Spartan women are just as verocious as Spartan men. Her climax, while a bit heavy on the movie-ish lines, was one of the highlights of 300.
For me, the best part of 300 was the tidbits of fantasy: the hunchback, the butcher executioner, the goat/deer-headed thing playing the lute, even Xerxes himself was interesting eye candy. These helped to break the story from being Troy's distant cousin (you know, the one no one talks to). I would have liked to have seen these creatures intergrated more into the story, rather than just being fodder for the slaugher. The hunchback's story arc (no pun intended) felt rather unfinished. Technically, the movie itself was unfinished but if they showed any more longwinded battle scenes I might have started to twitch. In the end, 300 has some pretty images, several boob shots, people losing limbs, great costumes, and little meat on the plot bone. So see it for all the shiny bits, but really, don't expect much. And remember, there's no crying in war. Unless you take an arrow to the neck. You can cry all you want then.