Outside in the parking lot after 300 was over, I saw a few guys running to their car, imaginary swords poised, shouting “Fight for glory!” and laughing. This is as appropriate a response as any to 300, an overwrought, revved-up, and deeply silly symphony of clanging steel and spurting blood. That may sound fun, and in fits and starts it is, mostly in the first half hour. After a while, though, its heavy-metal thunder becomes white noise; some of us may wish the stalwart Spartans would just die with honor already so we can go home. The movie isn’t without some humor, but generally it’s so grimly full of itself it invites derision. You either buy into its warrior-class snobbishness or you don’t, and if you don’t, it’s a long sit.

300 is based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, the same artist whose comics inspired 2005’s Sin City. Miller made his name working on the Marvel comic Daredevil, and he seems to have worked backwards to Batman, then to old pulp fiction, and finally to the battle of Thermopylae, the birth of manly heroism, wherein three hundred of Sparta’s finest soldiers held off the massive Persian army for as long as they could. Miller has a thing about machismo, and his graphic novel fetishized the Spartans’ toughness, bravery, and did I mention toughness? The Spartan men are trained from childhood to kill or be killed; the women are allowed to speak, though when it counts, even the Queen has to submit to rape in order to be heard before the Council.

Directed by Zack Snyder, who helmed 2003’s uninteresting Dawn of the Dead remake and next threatens to adapt Alan Moore’s seminal comic Watchmen, the movie has been run through God knows how many digital filters to achieve a look slavishly identical to Miller’s drawings. The difference between this dubious achievement and Sin City, a far more entertaining comic-to-film transplant, may simply be that 300 strains so hard to be cool it keeps blowing its cool, while Sin City was just cool, returning Miller’s noir-flavored narrative to its source. Again and again in 300, limbs are lopped off, spears pass through ribcages with no resistance, dark red bee-swarms of blood explode from each slash and hack. It’s all very pretty, but also hermetic and fake.

The only moment of true beauty comes when Sparta’s king Leonidas (Gerard Butler) goes to visit the Oracle before battle, and she’s doing what appears to be an underwater dance on dry land; the visual is pinched from Howard Schatz’ photography, but one is grateful for its relative quietude. Elsewhere, Leonidas and his noisy elite — the few! the proud! the Spartans! Ah-roo! — set the movie’s tone. When the Spartans aren’t destroying every Persian they see, Leonidas is either bellowing about destroying Persians or having destroyed Persians. Leonidas is a terrific bellower, though you’d think one of Zack Snyder’s legions of digital artists would’ve whited-out the fillings visible in Gerard Butler’s bottom molars as he bellows. (Spartans are so tough they even fill their own cavities. With the innards of their foes! Ah-roo!) The Spartans are also raving heterosexuals, contemptuous of the “boy-lovers” among the other Greeks (as if Spartans were exempt from the common homosexuality of the day), while the Persians are ruled by the freaky-tranny Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), who adds a craven hunchback to his collection of fags, disfigured dykes, and other unworthies. 300 goes beyond homophobia into homoterror.

Ah, but nobody appreciates the warrior! He will be betrayed by non-combatants at home; he will die on the battlefield in a crucifixion pose, nearly 500 years before there was a Crucifixion. I wouldn’t say 300 has much relevance to current conflicts; Snyder says politics were far from his mind as he made the film, and I believe him. He plays toy soldiers heedless of anything except the aesthetic, iconic charge. The timing is interesting, that’s all. 300 isn’t exactly pro-war; it’s too unconscious for that. It yearns for a war worthy of all this totally awesome bad-ass filmmaking technique, dude. Ah-roo.

Explore posts in the same categories: action/adventure, biopic, overrated, war

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