Movie Review | 300
Movie summary: King Leonidas of Sparta and a force of 300 men fight the Persians at Thermopylae in 480 B.C. (IMDb)
I first saw 300 a long time ago (it's fifteen next year!), although I don't think I saw it in the cinema, but that didn't stop me enjoying it anyway. I'd say that I enjoy it less now, although I conversely appreciate certain parts of it more. It was fun to watch again for this post, but there are issues with it to say the least.
First off, there are the visuals. As VFX technology has improved over time, it's become a little easier to see the rougher edges that passed unnoticed at the time, but stand out more these days. The highly stylised world of the Spartans does counter a little of the effect, but lots of the environments feel more 'fake' now than when I previously saw the movie.
We also get a bucket-load of what has become as synonymous with Zack Snyder as lens flare to JJ Abrams: slow-motion action. There's a lot here. No, more than you're thinking. It is used to pretty good effect most of the time, but there are a couple of moments where it's clear Snyder wanted to capture a particular image rather than use the effect to enhance anything about the story.
One example of this is the Oracle, a young woman who writhes around under material both see-through and far too loose to cover her breasts. There's no real need for the slow-motion here other than to gaze at the admittedly attractive woman (played by Kelly Craig), but it does also highlight another issue with 300 and that is how it depicts women.
I get that there's an undeniable historical context for women to be treated as less than men in any number of cultures throughout history, but the problem here isn't how the characters are treated (Lena Headey's Queen Gorgo is a force to be reckoned with even with her husband away), but rather the objectification and sexualisation of their appearances.
Now, there is an in-universe 'excuse' for this, and for what appear to be numerous incidents of racist depictions of the Persian monstrosities and abominations facing the brave Greeks. You see, the whole movie is simply a story being told by David Wenham's Dilios, sent back to Sparta by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) to tell the Greek world what happened.
It doesn't stop what we see from being sexist or racist, but it certainly fits within the context of this framing device. Of course the Spartans are superhuman warriors capable of killing hundreds each before falling. Of course their women are beautiful and desirable. Of course their enemies - most with darker skin than them - are disgusting things to be despised.
Again, it doesn't really excuse what we see, especially because so much of this is delivered visually rather than through action. Did we need to see the Oracle's tits to realise that the beautiful young woman was... a beautiful young woman? Couldn't the Persians be shown to be behaving monstrously rather than being literal monsters?
To be fair, the movie can't take all of the blame thanks to it being an adaptation of Frank Miller and Lynn Varley's graphic novel, but it can all just feel a little unnecessary at times. I think Snyder could have got the same points across - even visually - without having to recreate the comic to such a degree. Then again, the same could be said of his Watchmen adaptation.
Now, that's a lot of criticism for a movie I said I enjoyed, right? So, what did I like? Gerard Butler as Leonidas for one. This is essentially his movie, to the extent that it will probably be the role he'll be most remembered for. Hell, it's still weird to me seeing him without a beard thanks to this movie. He commits entirely to the role and simply becomes Leonidas, feeling every inch the warrior king we see.
There's also the fact that, questionable moments aside, 300 is simply fun to watch. It's silly and stupid and over the top and it just doesn't care. It's about a one bunch of guys fighting another bunch of guys and looking cool while doing so until the smaller force finally loses (not a spoiler - funnily enough, it's now been 2,500 years since the Battle of Thermopylae actually took place). Sometimes that's enough.
300 is still an enjoyable movie to watch, although its flaws stand out a little more now than they might've done a decade ago. The extensive VFX have dated as technology has improved and aren't quite as convincing as they once were, plus the (over)use of slow motion does become tiring well before the end. Still fun background entertainment.