Starring Gerard Butler and Lena Headey. Rated 18A.
When I pulled up to my buddy's house en route to 300, he was in the middle of dinner. He grabbed his bacon-wrapped steak and tucked it into a napkin, intending to bring it into the theatre.
Therein, readers, is an epiphany. When you see 300, snack on large, juicy hunks of flesh. Popcorn and candy are trifles, unworthy of this manliest of movies, for 300 celebrates Sparta, as led by King Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae. Like all Spartan citizens of two-and-a-half millennia past, Leonidas was a soldier, raised from birth to become the fiercest, most defiant, brave, and ab-packed human being on Earth.
Unfortunately for Leonidas, his opponent in 480 BC was a god, or close enough: Xerxes, Emperor of Persia. Trying to end almost 80 years of battle against the independent states of Greece, Persia launched the largest force of men and ships ever assembled. At the narrow pass between ocean and mountain lay Thermopylae, the Hot Gates, through which the host of Xerxes could march upon Athens and then the rest of Greece. Betrayed by a Greek traitor who showed the Persians a secret path behind Thermopylae, the defence forces fled-except for their leader, Leonidas, and 300 of his fellow Spartans. (There they died. But their last stand slowed and thinned out the invaders sufficiently to postpone their campaign. Xerxes had to winter his forces at Thessaly, where, the following year, they were decisively wiped out by the united Greek armies, led by the new Regent of Sparta.)
Thermopylae has lived on in the imaginations of leaders, historians, and military buffs, including one Frank Miller, the comic-book superstar of Daredevil and Dark Knight Returns. Miller's fascination with the 1962 movie The 300 Spartans inspired an acclaimed graphic novel. With its double-page spreads, richly painted by Lynn Varley in hues of bronze and crimson, 300 was Miller's polished, historical counterpoint to his stark noir, Sin City.
With Sin City enjoying a surprisingly successful and faithful translation to the big screen, expectations have been sky-high for 300. Director Zack Snyder (of the way-better-than-you-thought-it-would-be Dawn of the Dead remake) takes a similar "virtual cinema" approach to the material, shooting real actors against a blue screen to achieve the dreamy, stylized tones of the comic. The result is a historical action flick like no other, a martial arts-cum-ballet piece animated by an unusually gore-obsessed Caravaggio.
The look of the movie dominates the proceedings to the extent that the perfectly adequate acting of Gerard Butler as King Leonidas and Lena Headey as Queen Gorgo fails to register much; you're transfixed by the beautiful, awful tableaux, the maniacal perfection of Spartan obedience, and, of course, those abs. It's all rather compelling, assuming you're not overly annoyed that the movie depicts a fascist, pederastic, slave-dependent society as a brotherhood of freedom-loving heterosexuals holding back the unending stream of dark-skinned effeminates. And, also, if you bring the right snack.
On second thought, the meat should be raw.