We gave it a B+
Those who came to 300, director Zack Snyder’s brutal, beautiful adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel, expecting a rigorously historical look at the ancient Battle of Thermopylae were expecting the wrong thing. The film’s pulpy, arch voice-over should’ve been a tip-off: 300 is not supposed to be real. (For further evidence, look to the goat-headed flutist and the executioner with serrated-blade arms.) While the story of Leonidis and his brave 300 is rooted in fact, this retelling is pure myth, the very inkwell of legend poured onto the screen.
It’s a tale, told from one Spartan to another, designed to inspire awe and stoke the warrior spirit. As such, everything about it is heightened. The acting is overwrought in the best way; every line that comes out of Gerard Butler’s mouth, as Sparta’s tragic King Leonidis, sounds like he’s been chewing on it for a while, squeezing out every last bit of hero juice. The CG-enhanced images are like terrific cover songs; you know they’re not authentic, but you don’t care because they’re so stunning. Then there’s the combat. Snyder uses every trick in the bloodletting playbook, and invents a few new ones, to stage one of history’s greatest last stands.
And the blood does spill, as Leonidis defies the will of Sparta’s oracle council and leads a tiny contingent of soldiers against the swarthy, effete conqueror Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro), the outrageous outlander who brings the threat of domination to Leonidis’ doorstep. Since the film’s surprisingly robust debut, many have speculated about what sort of message lies beneath 300‘s adrenalized, action-porn surface. Is it a defense of George W. Bush’s desert crusade, given that Leonidis goes to war with, as Rummy might’ve put it, ?the army he has, not the army he wants,” ignoring senatorial oversight to combat a Middle Eastern enemy? Is it anti-American, given that Leonidis openly mocks the other Greeks who join his crusade for being citizen soldiers — a quality that was the very mortar of the Greatest Generation? Is it sexist, racist, or homophobic? You won’t find any answers in this two-disc set’s bonus features, which focus their anemic energy on making-of documentaries and webisodes, tributes to Frank Miller, and History Channellite examinations of 300‘s factual basis. (And the three paltry deleted scenes fail to shock or awe?unless you’re shocked/awed by the sight of Persian giants with midget archers on their back.) But maybe this ?special” edition was knowingly designed to function like the Spartans themselves. It doesn’t waste time with bells and whistles, frivolities that might detract from its mission. It just astonishes the viewer with a rousing tribute, a battle hymn of this fierce republic.