Crypto-fascist, neo-communist, homoerotic, multiple wargasm, anyone? “When I pitched it to Warners, they said, ‘Nah…’”, twitches perma-smirk director Zack Snyder in the Making Of. “So they gave me some money and I shot a scene to show them how it would look. They loved it...”
Thing is, take Snyder’s sample (a CG-bronzed, 360 pan of a buff soldier single-handedly carving up an onrush of enemies), stick it on repeat for two hours, and you’ve pretty much seen the movie. Despite the infinite potential of the Sin City-style bluescreen sheen, Snyder doesn’t really use the processing power to push further than mere spectacle. There’s lots of fighting, lots of SHOUTING, lots of speedupthen! slooow dooown theeeen… speedupagain! smashing and slashing and chopping and lopping. Not much story to spare, though...
Frank Miller’s original graphic novel was a musky redux of the legendary 480BC battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartan warriors bravely – some might say, stupidly – stood against, like, millions of Persians. “My movie is history filtered through Frank!” babbles Snyder. It sure is. Historians would have plenty to say about the Spartans’ fetishised, open-fronted battle-threads, with fight sequences resembling fantasy face-offs between rippling phalanxes of Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness cover-stars. It’s Braveheart for body fascists.
With its chest-hammering jingoism and immovable faith in the nobility of armed resistance, 300 grates – often gleefully – against the mood of the times: the upstanding, city-dwelling Spartans determined to best the swarthy, underhand Persian hordes. It’s been (over)-read as a Western vs Muslim thing, but, with his puppy-dog zeal for the blood and beef of the virtual battlefield, Snyder doesn’t reveal much appetite for intelligent political agenda (“Man, I can’t believe they paid us to do this!”).
Still, the director scrapes a passing grade thanks to the unrelenting roll-out of breathless set-pieces: grappling bodies, grinding axes, creaking leather, sparking armour... er, charging mutant elephants (there’s that historian-baiting, again). And, as supreme cheerleader for the whole rip-roaring carnival of carnage, Gerard Butler is a leonine warrior-king with a simple but effective acting trick: if in doubt, shout it out. “THIS IS SPARTA!” he confirms to an obstinate Persian messenger before upending the arrogant fool into a pit. “TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL!” he announces, channelling Russell Crowe. Only Russell Crowe who looks like the ex-bass player from Queens Of The Stone Age and sounds like Sean Connery via Brian Blessed.