With much bombast, 300 tells the story of Leonidas of Sparta, who defends his city from the invading Persian forces, led by the evil boo-hiss Xerxes. Like Sin City, the look of the film is heavily based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, the master of stylised grit. The movie looks painted and is rich in color; bronze, copper and red dominating the screen. And it’s not just the locale that looks good, the brave 300- give-or-take – Spartans are all sporting impressive pectorals and sixpacks, and are blissfully devoid of shirts. I suppose that is what you get for purging any less-than-perfect offspring from the gene pool, as the beginning of the movie shows us. The Spartans also have absolutely no moral ambiguity about killing off wounded and helpless opponents. Yup, they are a bit of a tough bunch, as the narrator does not get tired of telling us.
Opposing these manly, quite homo-erotic musclemen are the odd, exotic and frankly somewhat gay Persians. They are lustful, deformed, vain and overly made up. Especially Xerxes looks like a pissed off drag queen, even though his voice sounds all low and rumbly, with the help of some computer effects.
The entire movie feels visceral, with a little bit of sweaty sex and a huge amount of violence. The Spartans spend an inordinate amount of time impaling invaders in slow motion. During some of this there is – surprisingly – some Heavy Metal music playing in the background. But given how much bloody slaughter is taking place, the movie does actually feel a bit slow all around and seems to have to stretch to fill its running time. The story is ultimately fairly simple and the overblown, po-faced dialogue does not work in the movie’s favour. After a while you just feel like slapping that narrator when he starts waxing lyrical about the Spartans again. It’s hard to care about anyone when everyone is working so hard to be tough.
In short, the movie is just about worth seeing for the visual style and the hot bodies (well, before the part where they get decapitated or some such). And maybe the rousing speeches will stir up your inner warrior. But more likely the movie will send you scuttling to the gym to work on your sixpack. Or to the store for some Leonidas bonbons (man, product placement gets everywhere these days…).