You want action? Unique '300' delivers the goods

Category: 300 Reviews | Posted by: maryp
Article Date: March 11, 2007 | Publication: The Virginian-Pilot | Author: Mal Vincent

MACHISMO is dished out in big helpings when the Spartans stand up to the Persians in the latest version of the Battle of Thermopylae. The result, Zack Snyder's "300," is a wild testosterone cartoon that is neither historical nor hysterical but somewhere in between - the kind of lively, action entertainment that keeps us going to the movies.

Interpretations of the battle, vintage 480 B.C., have been plentiful all the way back to Greek writers and poets, who probably exaggerated in the same way this movie does about the sacrifice of 300 valiant Spartans who, against all hope, stood against the onslaught of the Persian hordes of King Xerxes to gain time.

In 1962, 20th Century-Fox turned out a Cinemascope version called "The 300 Spartans" with Richard Egan as the heroic King Leonidas and a cast that included Diane Baker and Ralph Richardson. That outing, though, hardly compares to this unique new movie, which was filmed with live actors against spectacular, computer-generated mountains, raging seas and thousands of Persian creatures, ranging from elephants to the elite "Immortals."

Much of film is cast in a silver-gray hue. Nights are tinted in blue; sunsets are otherworldly gold. Snyder, whose lone feature was the unfortunate remake of "Dawn of the Dead," shows a great deal of originality. In comic book style, he sometimes stops the film, only to advance in slow motion and then, with a jolt, bring it up to speed again.

Since it is also based on a Frank Miller graphic novel (a respectable tag for comic book), comparison to 2005's "Sin City" is inevitable.

Visually, it is not as daring as the black-and-white "Sin City," also based on a Miller graphic novel. Nor is it as tasteless. Sexuality is largely limited to a nude-ish farewell scene between Leonidas and Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey). She represents the Spartan woman with aggressiveness - ready to sacrifice husband and son to the military while remaining home to lobby the council to send additional soldiers to help the 300.

The Persians don't take kindly to the fact that their messenger is thrown into a bottomless pit by Leonidas, played with manly gruffness by the same Gerard Butler who sang in "The Phantom of the Opera." Choosing the narrow pass in northern Greece for a last stand, his forces square off with all the special effects the Persians can throw at them. They build a wall, using the bodies of dead Persians as mortar.

Xerxes' entrance is atop a massive throne carried by hundreds of slaves. In one of the film's few comedic moments, Leonidas reacts to the pageantry with the low-key comment, "You must be Xerxes." Brazilian model Rodrigo Santoro plays the preening emperor complete with eyeliner, pearls and enough gold chains to be the envy of Mr. T. Interestingly, the enemy is made up of mysterious, effete Easterners while the heroes are fighting for the very essence of Western democracy. (Is this a "patriotic" movie or just noisy entertainment?)

A deformed dwarf named Ephialtes is a chip off the old Gollum when he betrays the heroes after they won't let him fight with them. (Supposedly, only buff guys get in this army). The Spartans sound pretty authoritative about their disciplined demands to be great champions of freedom, but what's so freedom-loving about working out until you drop just so you can look good for your beautiful death? Pass the burgers.

The Spartan code is repeated so often we feel like telling the screen: "We get it. Can we move on?"

Tyler Bates' music, coupled with the general mayhem, makes this the noisiest movie of the year. They'd better not show a quiet movie next door. It'll be drowned out.

"300" is too serious for its own good, but it's still a lively bit of fun in a genre that has been neglected since Steve Reeves hung up his sword and sandals. It's a guy's movie, but the girls might appreciate the leather jocks the Spartans wear into battle.

"Prepare for Glory!" is the call to arms outside the theater. In spite of the R rating, those who like Wolverine and Batman are sure to go for this.

It's everything an action movie should be, including mindless