If Braveheart were stripped of its meat, spray-painted gold and served as the poorest of value meals at McDonalds, there's a good chance you'd end up with something resembling 300 -- Zack Snyder's long-awaited adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel. Imagine if the front page of (insert the name of a popular muscle magazine) suddenly sprung to life -- in all of its fake tan glory -- and brought with it one of the most overly hyped films in history. You know its bad when the audience laughs at your main villain and, when they boo as the end credits begin to roll, all there's left to do is whisper -- not scream -- "This is Sparta?" Like Robert Rodriguez's Sin City, 300 was filmed entirely in front of a green screen. Thus, it looks pretty but feels fake, making it so the entire film rests on the shoulders of its script and cast.
At least Sin City had actual talent to go along with its intertwining storyline and poetic dialogue -- all 300 has going for it is a bunch of sexy men swinging swords and screaming bloody murder. Spartans believe that death on the battlefield is their greatest glory, and so they train their sons to become warriors from a very young age, forcing them to leave home and live amongst the wilderness for years as a test of willpower and strength. This is the path Leonidas (Gerard Butler) takes as a child -- trained to fight by his father -- and sent into the woods to do battle against mother nature and a lone, fierce-looking wolf. When Leonidas emerges, he is king of Sparta -- a militant man who will fight to the death any army that threatens to strip him of his wife, his home and his freedom.
But all is not well in Sparta; the Persians are advancing, and they have sent a messenger to offer Leonidas a deal: kneel down before Persian King Xerxes and your people will be spared rape, torture and death. Before the Spartan council can discuss the matter, Leonidas takes it upon himself to promptly kill the messenger and declare war -- calling upon his strongest 300 soldiers to join him in battle. When the Oracle (a half-naked woman who dances around a scarf in slo-motion while somehow predicting the future) informs Leonidas that he will fail in his mission, the rest of Sparta refuses to accept their King's decision. Denied the use of his own army, and with all of Greece turning its back, Leonidas angrily leaves Sparta with his 300 soldiers on a quest to defeat the great Persian army ... and its thousands upon thousands of followers.
Leonidas comes up with a plan to trick the Persians; trapping them within a narrow path so that the Spartans can have their way with the enemy. Of course, there's a secret back-door entrance that, if the Persians discovered, could give them the sneak-attack advantage. But no Spartan would dare give up that information to their rival, right? Finally, after a long drawn-out opening (which felt as if it were written by a seven year-old, and not the great Frank Miller), Zack Snyder's epic battle sequences begin. Heads are sliced off, bodies stack up -- you've got evil elephants, a rhino and an eight-foot warrior who goes down fairly easy -- not to mention the Persian's fearless leader; the awfully feminine-looking Xerxes, who comes draped in gold, bronze as can be.
The enemy comes in all different masks, shapes and sizes, but the fight scenes are way too stylized to effectively engage the audience. Snyder's effects take all the realism out, and the acting (with lines that range from "Spartans Blah Blah Fight!" to "Spartans Blah Blah Attack!") drowns out the passion. There's no doubt Frank Miller's graphic novel is a fun read, but Zack Snyder's interpretation was a boring, fast-food version of better films, with better scripts, better acting and better battles. 300 men fought to defend their freedom but, in the end, 300 people (including me) wanted their two hours back.