Movie Review: 300

photo_50.jpgBased on the epic graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City), 300 is the violent tale of the ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae. The scene is set in 480 BC, when King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) leads his army of 300 Spartans to defend his country against the massive Persian army controlled by its self-proclaimed god, Xerxes. Blocking the only road through which Xerxes and his colossal army can pass to reach Sparta, Leonidas and his army hold off the Persians under insurmountable odds.

photo_27.jpgBut history buffs be warned, this film is not for you. The trailer and the movie poster’s unabashed depiction of splattered blood and chiseled flesh should be your first clue. The second comes during the first 10 minutes when you learn that all Spartan males are trained from birth to be ferocious killers in war, and that the greatest honor is to die in battle. 300 presents a highly stylized testosterone-fueled fantasy world. True to Miller’s vision and style, 300 is a blend of live action against virtual backgrounds bathed in a mix of dark sepia and muted color tones, maintaining a look and feel that always stays close to its graphic novel roots. And although the film’s plot is thin on historical background, 300 is nothing short of a visual and audible feast for the senses. From the blended orchestral and heavy metal score, to the army of muscle bound heavies wielding spears and swords, to the sudden slow motion segments during the many battle sequences, director Zack Snyder focuses enormous attention on the visual nuance and detail of Miller’s über-violent world.

photo_05.jpgThe battle scenes are gruesome and yet for all its gore, 300 manages, albeit barely, to avoid the pointlessness often associated with gratuitous violence. Butler is convincing as the family man King who loves his wife and lives by a strict code of honor. But his performance is almost overshadowed by his captain (Vincent Regan), and his wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Heady). The film is laced with themes of honor, glory and love. And although the dialogue can be cliché and over-the-top at times, it somehow manages to work without being campy. And for all its carnage, 300’s violence occasionally borders on farcical, giving way to humor while simultaneously feeling reminiscent of a Quentin Tarantino film. Overall, 300 is not for the faint, but do not be dismayed—300 is definitely worth the risk.

31 thoughts on “Movie Review: 300

  1. Hey Manahi … it’s cool to see you writing here.

    I have wondered if this is the style of movie-making that might work for telling Biblical stories to some extent. For example, to tell the story of the life of David.

  2. Dang, I’ve been watching the trailers pretty frequently because I just won’t be able to see this movie….

    why can’t they make such stylish and beautiful films like this with a less than R-rating…..

  3. If you’ve read the book you would realize how difficult it would be. All it is is war and fighting. I loved the look of Sin City, and this using the same technique is enough to get me to see it.`

  4. supergenius,

    my wife would kill me, and seeing that I’m in an eternal marriage, I’ll take the happy wife over the 2 hours of pleasure at seeing 300. :)

  5. Thanks for the review. It sounds like he’s really captured the flavor of the original comic book, which is nothing short of brilliant (though still not as good as some of Miller’s other work). I can’t wait to see it.

  6. Every so often a movie comes along that really harnesses the full potential of film as a medium. I can’t say if this one fits the bill, but judging from the trailers it looks like it has a chance.

  7. First line of A. O. Scott’s NY Times review:

    “300” is about as violent as “Apocalypto” and twice as stupid.


    (Actually, I’m still interested in seeing both movies)

  8. This morning in the local papers that get handed out by the subways, I read two reviews that absolutely trashed 300.

    However, Eric Snider’s review gives it a grade of A-.

    So far, the critics I’ve read have been pretty polarized – either thinking it’s great or thinking it’s awful.

  9. I think it was same way with Sin City–trashed by the critics. I’m wondering if they don’t quite understand this type of movie-making.

  10. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the trailers look incredibly goofy. I think they only way I could enjoy this movie is as camp. It just seems so hyper-serious and testosterone-fueled to me.

    I guess you could say that I don’t really understand this type of movie-making.

  11. It’s not just you. I watch the trailer and gag a bit. But maybe it’s better (or at least of more interest) if you’re a fan of the graphic novel. Or epic war movies.

  12. Greg and Allison, I think it looks AWESOME, so I guess there is something there that some folks love and others just don’t get. That’s probably called “taste.”

  13. Oooo, getting personal. And kinda, you know, rude.

    Steve, I’m sure there are great epic war movies. I am just not all that interested in them. Likewise, I’m sure there are great chick flicks you won’t go near.

  14. “That’s probably called “taste.””

    Or lack thereof.

    Then again, I guess the best way to describe hacking off limbs and slo-mo decapitations while sepia-toned blood splatters about and bodybuilders scream gutturally probably *is* “tasteful,” so maybe you’re right.

    My bad.

  15. I happen to know for a fact that contrary to popular opinion Supergenius loves chick flicks, and even sleeps with copies of BEACHES and HOPE FLOATS under his pillow.

    How I know that is a different story altogether.

  16. Coming soon: a Cinemasochist on chick flicks.

    Greg and Allison, I think you guys have taste. Just not, you know, about movies.

  17. Here’s just one paragraph from the scathing Metro rag review I read this morning:

    The Spartans are a bunch of loudmouthed bullies who are hard to root for. Male infants deemed imperfect in Sparta are left for dead, and those who make the cut are groomed for one purpose — to be well-oiled (literally) fighting machines. Well, they also make late-night-cable-ready love to obsequious knockouts. These Speedo-wearing tools are precisely the kind of loudmouthed cretins who routinely give atomic wedgies to the nerdy Internet fanboys who, ironically, are drooling all over their hard drives over this fetishistic drivel.

    Then there’s the AM New York rag review which isn’t much nicer.

    What can I say. I take the subway almost every day and I end up reading these things sometimes.

  18. Greg, Allison,

    It’s not just you. I watch the trailer and gag a bit.

    Me too. I could tell that the writers were writing the show for a very modern audience, instead of attempting to show how it really was when Leonidas claimed “a new age is upon us, an age of freedom!” I snorted every time I watched the trailer. Heh, the Greeks, free? Yeah, if you were male, and pretty and blah blah blah. I wish modern writers would stop putting our culture on ancient ones. Portray them correctly, dudes!

  19. I loved it. I would like either historical verisimilitude or a lavish visual style, and this gives us the latter. I thought it was great.

  20. I saw it this morning. It’s an amazing film. Very gutsy for being so over-the-top while also taking itself so very seriously. And it’s brilliant for how well it is able to hold it all together and work as a movie. By contrast, Sin City was also over-the top and took itself very seriously, but it never came together very well — as a result, it had more the feel of an experiment than of a movie. 300 actually succeeds, big time.

  21. As someone who spends his historical life under the Persian kings, all I can say is boo! hiss! to Spartans and bah! sucks! to Orientalism.

    I’m still going to watch it though.

  22. DKL, I think the big problem with Sin City was it was too slavish to the comic book. As so many (should) have learned, what works in print doesn’t necessarily work on film.

  23. Clark, yes, Sin City was very nearly the comic book animated. It matched the comic book frame for frame, with one exception that is particularly timely right now: in the scene where the street minions head through the narrow alleyway, the comic book juxtaposes it with images of the Spartans marching through Thermopylae; the movie does not.

  24. I hate to contradict A.O. Scott, one of the smartest critics in the business, but 300 is actually twice as smart as Apocalypto.

    I’m not much of a feminist critic, but I’d love to see a good feminist reading of the film. Early in the film, Queen Gorgo makes an arresting display of strength by involving herself in the King’s affairs and then defends her role to a Persian messenger by insisting that Spartan women were powerful because they bore Spartan men. Though spoken with a great deal of gusto in this particular instance, it’s a common argument for female power and one, I believe, that does not particularly excite feminists because it only reverts woman to their traditional roles and positions of indirect power. After this initial scene, we are left wondering what exactly is the role of women in 300’s Sparta.

    Three particular instances of female empowerment then follow. The Oracle, the Persian seducers of Ephialtes, and the Queen’s grudging agreement with Theron. Each of these cases exhibits a very real power on the part of women that greatly affect that fate of all, but in each of the three cases their power is tied up in their sexuality and more significantly, their power is actually bondage. This is most conspicuously portrayed in the character of the Oracle, arguably the most powerful being in the universe who is yet a sexual slave. In a film that’s all about the liberation of women and children from literal bondage, 300 is offering a quizzical picture of women indeed.

    But all the tables are turned in the Queen’s final scene, which quickly offers such a strong case for female empowerment, it puts The Lord of Rings’ attempt to shame. By coyly mirroring her pervious scene with Theron and sticking her weapon inside of him, she succeeds in demonstrating both power of force as well as the power of character demonstrated in her rousing speech to the legislature. We thus finish with a parallel power structure, man and wife working together to secure freedom for all. Not bad for a story that’s really for men, by men, and about men.

  25. Clark,
    I am Xerxes’ bastard son, condemned to walk the earth until Ahmadinejad resurrects the Persian empire.

  26. A small post editorial — I should have added to my review that like any film, you can bring it into the classroom and look at it through all sorts of academic filters. “Not that that’s a bad thing,” to quote the good Mr. Seinfeld.

    But if you do that with 300, I think you’ll only find yourself frustated and desappointed with the film. Go for the mind blowing visuals and killer sound design (something often overlooked in my view. But hey, just like editing, it’s only done right when it’s transparent to the audience.) I digress…simpley put, 300 is so much more enjoyable if you just go to be entertained.

  27. Manahi, I think you’re right on. I liked your review, and thought it was a fantastic movie myself. It’s an action movie — and based not on history, but on a graphic novel — and as such, it entirely succeeds.

  28. […] I liked 300 the way I like McDonalds. Which is to say I liked it, but I’m not happy about it. It’s an orgy of fetish violence, hammy propaganda, and digital transfat. It entertains, yes, but I left feeling a little queasy. 300 Supersized Me and now I’ve come to atone. […]

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