The ads tell you to “prepare for glory” as 300 Spartans go to war against an army of Persians, numbering 250,000, in the film version of Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the 480 B.C. Battle of Thermopylae. My advice is to prepare your eyes for popping — hell, they just might fly out of their sockets — in the face of such turbocharged visuals. Those who saw Robert Rodriguez’s 2005 film of Miller’s Sin City, will have some idea of what’s in store: Actors perform against blank screens on which backgrounds are drawn to represent the panels Miller created for Dark Horse Comics in 1998. There are times when the process, however stunning, can suck the air out of a scene and make the viewer feel boxed in. But director Zack Snyder, who did a bang-up job on the remake of Dawn of the Dead, keeps the action roaring. Spears, swords and other handy phallic symbols pierce skin with startling regularity, causing great gushes of cartoon blood that make it really sticky for guys to walk in sandals.
And what guys! Decked out like gladiators in a gay fashion layout, the soldiers from the Greek city-state of Sparta look gym-ready for battle in crotch-squeezing ensembles that expose as much flesh as an R rating will allow. Manliest of all is The Phantom of the Opera‘s Gerard Butler as Leonidas, the king with no patience for the cowards and boy-lovers on the Greek council. Dominic West plays Theron, a sleazy politician keen on stopping Leonidas from inciting war against the Persians. Theron denigrates the theory that the Persians intend to dominate the world and unleash their weapons of mass destruction, including mutant rhinos, elephants and a masked army called the Immortals. That leaves Leonidas no choice, after a short break to refresh the missus, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), but to round up 300 of his bravest bodyguards and embark on a doomed mission against the Persians. The king does everything but sing Bruce Springsteen’s “No Surrender” to rally the troops. The trick is to bottle up the pesky Persians in a narrow mountain pass.
As you might guess, 300 dazzles as spectacle, but as history it’s dodgy. The film’s queer eye focuses hard on Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the Persian king who fancies himself a god and keeps insisting that Leonidas get on his knees before him. Leonidas has more than a touch of Mel Gibson in him, and he will not comply. This causes Xerxes to pout and add more jewelry to his body armor. Meanwhile, back home in Sparta, Queen Gorgo tries to persuade Theron to rally the council to help her husband by submitting to Theron’s S&M sexual desires. He backs her against a wall, lifts her toga and drills away with few murmurs about how “this will not be over quickly, and you will not enjoy it.” But since we’re in Miller territory, you can bet Gorgo will make Theron gag on his words.
The rest is all battle, all the time. And fanboys will thrill to the carnage and presumably forgive the puffed-up dialogue and regrettable lack of characterization. 300 is a movie blood-drunk on its own artful excess. Guys of all ages and sexes won’t be able to resist it.