Two and a half stars (R)
Most of the time, I have a quick, clear reaction to a movie and, within a few hours, a pretty good idea of how my review will go. Occasionally, though, I’ll see a production that simply doesn’t affect me much one way or the other. Like 300. I noticed some curious things about the live-action-with-computer-generated-backgrounds battle epic, but I have no strong opinion about the work as a whole.
The story of 300 Spartan he-men fighting damn near everybody, based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, is supposed to be a rousing spectacular, but it left me cold. Well, not cold. It left me tepid.
Here’s the thing. The movie is so highly stylized that not one second of it felt real. I heard big speeches and saw lots of carnage, but witnessing a bunch of actors emoting in front of green screens failed to juice me up, though it was interesting to watch the techniques used to simulate beheadings and stuff. Basically, my eyes were engaged but my emotions weren’t.
Set in 480 B.C., the movie, directed by Zack Snyder (the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake), offers a crayon version of the Battle of Thermopylae — the Greek Alamo — where 300 Spartans at a narrow mountain pass by the sea held off the massive army of invading Persians for three days.
Gerard Butler (Phantom of the Opera, the Lara Croft movies) plays Leonidas, the Spartan king, with gusto, really sinking his teeth into the overwrought dialogue. Good on ya, Gerard. Lena Headey appears as his wife, Queen Gorgo, who gets a subplot involving a scheming council member (Dominic West). My understanding is that her role was beefed up for the film, probably because it was felt that the all-male extravaganza needed a female presence to temper all the homoerotic images.
And hoo boy, this movie is packed with homoerotic imagery. Deny it if you wish, but the filmmakers opted to have their muscle-bound army dressed in little more than red capes and tiny metallic-looking underpants. It’s a beefcake bonanza, with hundreds of heaving pecs and more six-packs than at the Indy 500 the night before a race. Speaking of the six-packs, is it just me or does it look like some of those super-defined abs were given a little assist from the makeup department?
Regardless, 300 men, naked save for capes and underpants, trying to pierce other men with long pointed objects, comes off as a tad homoerotic to me. And I don’t have room to address Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the towering, mega-pierced Persian god-figure who keeps asking men for their submission.
I’m not complaining about any of that, incidentally, just noting it.
My only real complaint about 300 is that in numerous scenes of man-on-man action, the filmmakers switch to slo-mo as one soldier thrusts his sword at the other, then speed it up as the blade hits its mark. Yes, it looks cool at first, but it also breaks up the flow of the battles.
But I guess in a movie where virtually nothing seems real, that doesn’t matter either.