I was expecting that, no, there was no possible way it could live up to its promise. The trailers were great – but I’ve been hurt before (damn you George Lucas!) and it could have been atrocious.
The opening scenes were cheesy – it sort of worked, but nothing grabbed me until about 20 minutes in. Then the Spartans show their mettle, and that’s it – it grabs you, flips you
over and shows you a helluva good time!
Okay, to backtrack a little, the plot runs like this:
It’s a very very long time ago, in Greece and Sparta. Xerxes, the Persian
God-King, has taken most of Europe. The Spartan King Leonides does not wish to submit to Xerxes, and kills the messengers sent to demand a token of Xerxes’ rule. This provokes Xerxes to invade all the more, but Leonides can’t get the support required to mount a decent attack in response.
Instead, Leonides leads 300 of his best men to face off against the
million-strong Persian army. The odds look impossible, but Leonides knows of a tactical advantage. The Persians have landed at a position where their only entrance to Sparta is through ‘the Hot Gates’.
If Leonides’ small group can hold them off for long enough, they’ll at the
least inspire his people to defend against the invaders seeking to enslave his people.
The bulk of the film is taken up with the astounding battle sequences. Now
remember, this is directed by Zack Snyder – the man who brought us the 2003
Dawn of the Dead, and who will also be doing Watchmen in the next couple of
years. On the strengh of this, we’re in for a treat. He spatters 300 with the kind of
hyper-real violence that is on the beautiful side of terrible. You go ‘oooh’ as
if at a firework display, admiring the Spartans’ gory handiwork. Body parts go
flying, blood splatters in gushing ruby arcs. Whole bodies are turned into trees
of death (not by the Spartans) and defensive walls (ok, it was the
Spartans that time).
Taking some well-judged liberties with the original graphic novel, Snyder
also carves some high fantasy monsters into the battles. The Immortals are a
deadly foe, and once unmasked appear to be something worse. A huge creature
has blades for hands…all the better for cutting off the heads of Xerxes’
luckless Generals. Oh, and they have a cave troll. Sort of.
I think the unashamed fantasy within this kinetic mix makes a mockery of
allegedly racist overtones. The creatures, the endless armies, the cocky bravery
of the Spartans themselves, are all ultimately fodder for a pure legend. By the
final scene, the film will leave you shivering at the sheer energy and magnificent adventure.
It’s not historically accurate, or subtle, and almost everyone shouts, and
it’s sort of homoerotic (if you object to that sort of thing) without being
anywhere near as self-conscious as the muddled Alexander . Gerard Butler
manages to overcome the danger of acting purely on a green-screen. Either
actors are more used to that, or he’s just got a vastly better imagination
than most actors! Whatever it is, he pulls up the rest of the cast – and they’re all
clearly having a damn good time.
So, while it’s gruesome, grisley and glorifying in the guckiness of war, it
manages to to pull you in and make you cheer right til the end. A muscular
film that champions war, and one I’m actually very keen to see again before
it reaches DVD. You can’t praise higher than that!
Enjoyable story, eye-popping violence, great performances and freaky monsters (man-goats playing a flute anyone?) make for a helluva good night out!