Mediocre. With style!
There's no shortage of films of this little Greek vs. Persian barney made prior to this Zach 'Dawn of the Dead 2k5' Snyder helmed, Frank 'Sin City' Miller bescreenplayed take, but if you don't know what went down back in the day here's a refresher. The famed battle of Monopolae occurred in 480 B.C., where Spartan King and all-round badass Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his mad Persian counterpart Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) both wished to be the top hat, favouring it over the then recently introduced and still unfamiliar racing car. Harsh words were exchanged, push came to shove and all of a sudden you've got Xerxes diverting his world dominating armies numbering somewhere between 500,000 and 5,000,000, depending on who you listen to, having a go at Leonidas' 300 Spartan warriors and 700 assorted and largely ignored pic 'n' mix Greeks of other flavours.
Taking up positions at a narrow pass, a choke point Xerxes' army must pass through if they wish to dominate Greece, Leonidas and his force mount one of those history-defining, Speedo-clad, airbrushed pectoral enhanced heroic last stands, dispatching hordes of Xerxes' enslaved armed forces and providing a suitable rallying cry for the rest of the Greek forces to take arms against 'tha X'. Apparently the threat of having all of the men killed, women raped and children enslaved wasn't quite enough to have the Greeks break from watching the Olympic games. Eejits.
So, yes, big battle scenes then, with the swording and the spearing and the whatnot. Anything else? Well, there's the usual betrayals that go along with such things, either by the accursed Ephialtes (Andrew Tiernan underneath 2007's combined prosthetic quota for all films) on the battlefield or back in Sparta, where Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) tries to talk some sense into a ruling council reluctant to commit forces based largely on the corrupt Theron (Dominic West)'s recommendations. There's also a small amount of that slo-mo shots of fields of corn with a soundtrack featuring a lone woman caterwauling nonsense ala the crappy sections of Gladiator, but only enough to warrant mention in a film where there's very little else to mention.
Frankly, the narrative content of 300 is so scant that were it not weighted down by several buckets of blood then it would blow away in a slight breeze. There's little wrong with that, of course. In many ways this is a close as we've seen in recent years to the long lamented Big Dumb Action Film that died when Arnie pawned his shotgun and went a'guberning. What is wrong with it, for the most part, is that it frequently veers away from being Big and Dumb to being Big and Silly, and then veering further to Big and Stupid territory.
You've no doubt heard of the ever quick to ire Iranians worrying about this film portraying Persians as a bloodthirsty shower of savages. Frankly anyone getting worked up about slights to historical accuracy in a film such as this, especially where the director is best noted for zombie films ought to be boiled down into glue so that they may be transformed into something that may be of some use to humanity as a whole. Perhaps more worthy of concern is not that the Persians may be seen in a negative light, but that they have in fact stolen the bulk of their offensive forces from a nightmarish, crack addled version of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Not content with mere war elephants and war rhinos, Xerxes can call upon freakish nine foot ogres and bizarre, bloated flipper babies with razors for arms. Oh, and Xerxes himself is apparently a god, or at the very least is also nine foot tall and inhumanly begrowled of voice. In short, it displays about as much historical accuracy as your average Mel Gibson film.
Honestly, if this film just stopped being so damnably silly it'd be quite good. Sure, the pace and interest levels drop quite frighteningly whenever we're 'treated' to another segment of politicking in downtown Sparta, and the dialogue throughout rarely rises above laughable, but the action sequences are well handled and there's no denying the visual style of the piece. If if stuck to it's swords and sandals roots and eschewed the parade of freaks that only serve to throw the fourth wall into that big pile of dead Persian over yonder, 300 might have been a riotous romp, and the first great blockbuster of space year 2007. As is stands, it's a hulking slice of big-budget mediocrity that on the past few year's form will be the first of many as we hurtle towards the summer months.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Lena Headey (Queen Gorgo)
Dominic West (Theron)
David Wenham (Dilios)
Andrew Tiernan (Ephialtes)
Rodrigo Santoro (Xerxes)