Written by Michael B. Gordon, Kurt Johnstad & Zack Snyder
Directed by Zack Snyder
Starring Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan
My Advice: Matinee.
King Leonidas (Butler) is the ruler of Sparta. Sparta, and the rest of Greece, happens to be in the path of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) and his massive Persian army. Xerxes sends a messenger with a simple request: submit or we’ll kick your ass. Seems reasonable enough–except for the fact he’s pulling this shit in Sparta, where the people are…a little headstrong, shall we say. The messenger gets booted into a hole in the ground and Sparta needs to prepare for war. However, it’s going to be a bit unbalanced, as the end result is three hundred of Sparta’s finest facing down an army so large even Cecil B. DeMille would say, “Well, fuck me.”
[ad#longpost]The movie is based on Frank Miller‘s graphic novel of the same name, which took some liberties with the actual story of one of the most famous suicide missions in history. In fact, the allusions to this story from the Sin City comic book were removed from its movie version no doubt because this film was coming down the pike. But regardless, we’re not here to discuss how well the movie holds up to history, since it was obviously never anybody’s intention to tell an accurate story. Miller’s work is very stylized and the movie grabs some of that, and just as Sin City was a hyper-noir in a stylized world, Zack Snyder and his crew make a similar bit with this film. It’s not real. It’s not meant to be real. It’s supposed to be a sort of hyper-fantastical sword and sandals piece, so you can believe in giant ogres with axes and crazed war rhinos and shit. If you can buy into the world, you can roll with the story.
The good news is that the world is pretty well executed, apart from some glaring Gladiator references–and I can’t for the life of me decide if they were homages or ripoffs. What is it with wheat, anyway? Regardless, with the addition of a CG wolf at the beginning that doesn’t look quite like a wolf should, it’s fairly obvious we’re in story-land, or some very violent county of it, so pretty much anything odd can be chucked out the window as long as the story keeps our attention.
And it does, though I’ll be perfectly frank: there’s not a lot of story to be had here. I mean, let’s face it: it’s The Perfect Storm with spears. If you know your history, you know what’s going to happen, so there’s an added handicap–how do we care about characters when we know from jump that they’re going to bite it? And let’s face something else, too: once the attack starts, it’s pretty much wave after wave of attackers and blood flying and shit like that. And…that’s all. Granted, they try and step up the attacks so there’s always something interesting to watch happening on the screen, but it’s easy to see why a B-story of what’s happening back home was added in to try and give us something between gory smackdowns. Still, the smackdowns are not just gory, but gorgeous. They’re operatic in scale and treatment and the battle scenes are balletic in how the Spartans disembowel folks. I know that sounds nuts, but it works. It’s hard to bring to mind a violent film like this where the violence was so stylized. It seems perfectly natural to watch heads and limbs soar through the air.
The cast does exceptionally well. First of all, the Spartans all have six packs you could bounce a brick off of, and of course they go through the whole movie showing them off. I mean: wouldn’t you? People won’t just be hitting the history books after this film, I’ll be surprised if there’s not an increase in guys signing up for the gym in the next few weeks. Butler makes for a formidable Leonidas, and Headey’s queen is just as strong. It’s easy to see why they would risk everything to keep from having to kneel at the feet of Dhalsim–sorry, Xerxes, sorry. It’s because of this that the massive amounts of blood flying, apart from being crazy fu levels of redness, are easier to swallow than in Braveheart. Leonidas wants to stay a free man; Wallace was pissed they killed his girlfriend–you do the math. But seriously, anybody who doesn’t understand the whole drive for freedom is whacked. And anybody who thinks the film is pro-Bush administration at its core is also whacked, although superficially I must admit the timing of the film is quite intriguing, no?
So to sum up: a film that’s full of violence and testosterone and fills in the story holes with gorgeous slaughter. But isn’t that what the trailers promised? So if you went into the film expecting something beyond that and didn’t get it, then the problem’s with you, not the film, my friend.