So, this is Sparta.
PLOT: Around 400-something B.C. a small army of Ancient Greece's greatest warriors, 300 soldiers to be exact, are under siege from an invading army from Persia and they meet their invaders in a stylish film that is meant to embellish the art of war a la the Frank Miller graphic novel of the same name.
THOUGHTS: That brief synopsis above really does tell you all you need to know about "300." The movie has a lot of style imbued into it's look- from its repeated use of slow-motion sword fighting to the exaggerated visuals of monsters, freaks and other rejects (the bad guys). As a movie buff, I can tell you that this movie is visually unique- the sets are all "digital" (a phrase often overused nowadays) meaning that they have all been created by computers. What you see onscreen comes from the imagination of artists. And nothing here is meant to be taken literally. Some articles have been written criticizing "300" for being historically inaccurate. See, there really was a Battle of Thermopylae. Spartans really did fend off an invasion from Persian forces numbering in the several hundreds of thousands. But "300" doesn't concern itself with history because the movie aims to create a surrealistic tale glorifying blood, death and mayhem. To that end, "300" is a complete success. But is it a good movie? Not really.
I would describe "300" as a 90 minute movie trailer. It's nice to look at, but you're still left wanting for the actual story after the credits roll. The characters are all there, starting with the Spartan king, Leonidas, and his Queen Gorgo. There is a villain, Xerxes, who is an 8 ft. tall drag queen leading the Persians against our heroes. But for all of these characters, there is little meaning. And speaking of trailers, the movie's coolest lines have all been revealed in "300's" previews. Having been inundated with these commercials over the past several months, I honestly felt like I had seen this movie already. The cliche "style over substance" definitely applies to "300." It's a beautiful-looking film- the artistry is all onscreen. But the characters are so basic that you don't really care which way the story goes. Perhaps it is because the story goes nowhere that the characters are set and finished within the movie's first ten minutes. The movie starts with the warning of war. There is a brief build-up to battle. And then there's a battle. "Spartan" is a good word to describe the character development in this film. We don't gain any insight into Leonidas, other than that he loves his wife (but is too freakin' macho to even say the words). Leonidas is also a fierce warrior. Well, I should hope so if he plans of squaring off against a million Persians with 300 of his best soldiers. And Xerxes, the Persian king, is a pastiche of evil imagery- he's hairless, alien-looking and he has piercings all over his body. Basically, he's the last guy you'd want to run into stumbling home drunk.
But THE battle- the whole focus of the movie- exists in a vacuum. What are the stakes really? We are given such a narrow view into the world in which this movie takes place, that the story has no relevancy. Sure, there's a lot of talk about freedom and slavery, but those phrases have little weight when they are juxtaposed only with violence. Honestly, this movie could have spent 30 minutes on the Battle and the remainder of its time on the fall-out and I would have been a lot more engaged with the story. Imagine if "Star Wars" was a 90 minute movie about the battle to blow up the Death Star. That's basically what "300" amounts to- it's flashy, cool-looking but ultimately an empty vessel. Without any real human characters, the story falls flat and the movie renders itself irrelevant.
Now, I know it sounds like I'm trashing this movie- and in a way I am. But while watching it, I didn't actively dislike anything I was seeing. The movie does entertain with its style, and I was immersed in the experience. But after a couple of days of digesting "300" I look back and feel a nagging emptiness that I attribute to a complete lack of substance to the story and its characters.
WHAT WOULD JACK HAVE DONE? Jack Bauer, like the Spartans, has faced unbeatable odds many times before. First, he wouldn't have bothered with 300 CTU members for back-up. He would have instead uncovered a secret recording showing that Xerxes was actually a woman and he would have released this recording for the Persian army to hear. Upon learning that their Persian King is in fact a Drag Queen, the Persians would have packed up their gear and gone home, leaving Xerxes alone to fight Jack. And do we really need to speculate on the outcome of that fight?
CONCLUSION: A lot of sizzle and no steak- "300" is a series of movie trailers that fails to substitute for an actual movie.
SCORE: (out of a possible five sacks)