Starring: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Rodrigo Santoro
Written by: Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael Gordon
I’m always wary about movies that are heavily advertised. It’s the equivalent of overselling a product. In this case, I can forgive 300, because those trailers looked so good, I didn’t mind seeing them over and over again, but that’s also the problem. While the snippets of scenes were great and allowed me to fill in the blanks with equally great images in my head, the actual movie doesn’t live up. Some will say that’s my own fault for letting the hype get to me. Others will say that’s the studio’s fault for hyping up the movie with so much advertising. I think it’s both.
Let me just say, that I enjoyed this movie. It’s entertaining. The visual effects are highly believable, considering that the entire environment is green screen (though it’s a shame what passes for blood these days). The acting ranges from adequate with everyone in the cast to very good with Gerard Butler. Lastly, there’s plenty of carnage to be had and even a little sex. You will have a good time watching this film.
There. Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain why I’m disappointed. Since 300 is based on the legendary Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas led 300 Spartans to their deaths, fending off one million invading Persians, we already know what’s going to happen in the end. What will make the film outstanding is “how” we get there. The journey through 300 is visually appealing, but it’s not particularly emotionally stirring. We don’t really get to know any of the Spartans, save for a few, but even then we only really know them by their function, not by their character. So when one of them dies in battle, we don’t really care.
Speaking of battles, the fights are rather boring, which is a real shame since that’s the meat and potatoes of the film. In fact, there’s very little actual “fighting.” There’s plenty of slow-motion killing, but you won’t actually see any good exchanges. Even the one-on-one Leonidas has with this really big dude is kind of lackluster. Furthermore, there’s very little to distinguish the battles from one another except for what the Persians are wearing when they die.
Punctuating the battles is a subplot involving Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) as she tries to sway the Spartan council to go to war. Unfortunately, this plays out all too formulaic with expected betrayals and vindications arriving on cue. Other parts of the film follow the formula as well. As soon as you see that father and son Spartans are fighting side by side, you know one of them is going to die so that the other can mourn his loss.
It wasn’t all disappointing, of course. Rodrigo Santoro gave a very solid performance as a creepily sublime Xerxes. I think I enjoyed his role the most because I had no expectations for it, which brings me back to the hype. I feel it’s a little unfair to criticize the movie for not meeting its potential. 300 is well put together. It has everything you need from an action movie, decked out in a beautiful visual style. It just could have been so much more.