Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Sarah Royce
Sarah Royce
Sarah Royce
In “300,” falling over a cliff is a merciful death. (Photos courtesy of Warner Bros.)

By Paul Tassi, Daily Film Editor

“300” is an action picture stripped of things such as a complex plot, multi-layered characters and historical accuracy. While that might cripple most movies, we find that in “300” such things would only take away from a film in which the focus is on aesthetic value alone. The film speaks to themes of loyalty, honor and duty, but no one bought a ticket to see “themes,” they came to see a battle. And the fighting itself is so beautiful and well-orchestrated it carries the movie. “300” is a visual masterpiece, albeit it a not-quite-cinematic one.

An adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, the movie tells of the Battle of Thermopylae, where 300 doomed yet fiercely patriotic Greek soldiers fightagainst a massive army of Persians. Leading the Spartans is King Leonidas (Gerard Butler, “Phantom of the Opera”), a man without fear, guilt or the ability to talk without yelling.

Butler’s Leonidas may have far less dimensions than, say, Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or Russell Crowe’s Maximus, but would definitely kick their ass in a street fight. With the unreal athleticism of a gymnastic linebacker, King Leonidas barrels through thousands of Persians with a body so rock solid he doesn’t even need armor. Unlike previous onscreen warriors, he suffers from no moral conflicts or character flaws. He has a problem – a million Persians encroaching on his country’s freedom – and he has a solution: kill every single one of them. And how he does this is the sole reason everyone paid to see this movie.

The Persian army he faces is a cross between the Orcs from “Lord of the Rings” and a three-ring circus troupe. They are led by the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro, TV’s “Lost”), a monstrous nine-foot-tall giant who looks like an gender-bending version of Dhalsim from “Street Fighter” and roars orders of submission with a demonic, thunderous voice that rivals Darth Vader. He throws everything he has at the Spartans who dice through his army in exceptionally choreographed sequences where everyone appears to be constantly fighting in zero gravity.

Not since “The Matrix” showed a man dodging bullets has a film redefined action in such a significant way. Each fight sequence is engineered to give you chills as a hundred thousand arrows literally eclipse the sun or an entire legion of Persians is forced off a cliff by advancing Spartans. Slow-motion prevails through most of the film, and coupled with haunting CGI landscapes, gives the film a gorgeously surreal, dreamlike property.

The bloodless parallel plotlines are surprisingly engaging as well. Dominic West (TV’s “The Wire”) as the slimy politician Theron swipes scenes as he shows the devilishly handsome face of betrayal, while Andrew Tiernan (“The Pianist”) as the disfigured Spartan, Ephialtes, is a Judas whose appearance more accurately reflects his soul. The Queen (Lena Hadley, “The Cave”) brings a much-needed reasonable voice to a movie dominated by the hyper-masculine logic of impaling all your problems with a spear, although by the end of the film even she resorts to such tactics.

Most of the dialogue in the film is some rearranging of the words “fight,” “glory,” “honor” and of course “SPARTA!” but each line is delivered with such fearsome conviction that nearly all cheesiness is stripped away by sheer blunt force. The constant narration provided by the last remaining Spartan continually reminds the audience they are indeed watching a comic book come to life.

A movie like “300” is not going to be embraced by some critics who will dismiss it as a masochistic fanboy fantasy, but the audiences exiting the theaters will surely disagree. The movie is a two-hour extension of its hypnotizing trailer, which is what most people have in mind. It’s the kind of film that is made for the fans, not the critics, and by putting every carnal desire known to man on display, it does not disappoint. It may be unfair for a film to use such massive overdoses of adrenaline to arouse an audience’s emotions, but “300” does it nonetheless to great success.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

By Jeffrey Bloomer, Managing Editor

In “300,” life is good. The men are as picturesque as their surroundings, throwing their beefy vigor into carrying on their bloodline and annihilating people with dark complexions. Their equally fetching female counterparts have long, wavy hair and real ly, really hard nipples. Spartan women are the only in the world who can birth “real men,” we’re told, and based on the scenery, there’s not much room for argument. These are the people of Frank Miller’s Sparta: They eat, they sleep, they fuck, they kill. The end.

This may sound appealing to some viewers, but keep in mind that we’re spectators, not participants. And that’s the problem with “300”: It’s a tease. I could talk about how this isn’t really filmmaking. I could go on about the movie’s unabashed celebration of eugenics and bigotry and violence. Frankly, I’d be fronting. This world is so laughably simple that those concerns slip away in favor of a more urgent one: This aggressive and exuberantly stupid spectacle purports to get the audience off, but it’s all hot air. There’s no fire here, no heat, and in the end the whole thing turns into a frigid parade of limbs and egos mutilated beyond repair.

The film has some stunning sights, and director Zack Snyder, who previously made the rather good “Dawn of the Dead” remake, does an epic slow-mo. What I would have appreciated is a few less deformed lesbians and a little more about the intricacies of these people’s world. The camera lingers aimlessly on every last gold-plated, gemstone-encrusted battle ensemble, but all the film can offer from our hero (Gerard Butler) is flippant self-righteousness when anyone dares challenge his FREEDOM! That pundits have drawn comparisons between the film and the Bush administration in that vein is a testament to how utterly banal it is: It could apply to any era of U.S. history. There’s nothing to it.

“300” has elsewhere been likened to gay porn, but fortunately for its commercial prospects, the homoeroticism remains merely suggested – although I suspect the movie will have more longevity as hard-breathing camp than as a battle epic. Whatever the case, no one who goes to this movie will be disappointed, exactly, just conspicuously unmoved. For all the body parts that go flying in “300,” the one from which the film could most benefit, a heart, is not in sight. Our dear Spartans will be yelling until the end of time, but before long there will be no one left to listen.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *