If Gladiator and Sin City had a baby, it'd look a whole lot like Zack Snyder's 300. And that baby would be a 22-pound boy who shot out of the birth canal bearing several tattoos, snarling like a jackal and wielding a spiked club. Almost completely mindless but admirably stone-faced (with only an infrequent wink at the audience to remind us how crazy it all is), this is probably the closest thing we'll ever get to a feature-length action sequence -- and I for one think it's a big ball of testosterone-soaked entertainment. Based on the (very cool) graphic novel by Frank Miller, 300 offers a pretty simple story: Ancient Sparta is about to be invaded by a massive horde of bloodthirsty Persians. Typically muddled politics prevent Sparta's powerhouse army from getting involved, so it's up to King Leonidas and his band of 300 Spartans to keep the armies at bay while his queen does all she can to sway the politicians to her way of thinking. Period. That's all there is to 300, story-wise. It's not startlingly unique or anything, but it's enough of a story frame on which to hang two solid hours of high-end mayhem.
Visually arresting and wildly cut together, 300 is (despite its well-earned R-rating) precisely the kind of movie that turns 14-year-old boys into ravenous movie geeks. It's got more battles, brawls, monsters and maniacs than the entire Mad Max series and it approaches each new gimmick like it's the world's coolest new action figure. (Some of the most memorable characters in 300 don't utter a single word.) The action sequences are numerous, frequent, cleverly mounted and pretty damn creative. And since 47% of the movie is basically swords, shields, spears and skin-slices, it helps that Mr. Snyder has lots of nifty ideas on how to shoot his carnage. Truth be told, two hours of non-stop insanity would start to grow a little tiresome, and since much of 300's plot is linear at best (and entirely predictable at worst), it helps that we have a few strong actors in the mix. As Leonidas, Gerard Butler is a wild-eyed force of nature.
He growls and glowers and skewers and slices. If the actor had dialed it up one more notch, he'd be wading into the pool of self-parody. But because 300 has a sly (and impressively subtle) sense of humor about itself, we can go along with the severed-limb lunacy without taking it all that seriously. That's not to say that 300 is jokey, but it delivers some fairly outrageous images in a decidedly off-kilter fashion. (I can almost see Snyder chuckling to himself as he cut certain sequences together.) As far as the rest of the cast goes, Lena Headey stands out as a powerfully sexy Queen Gorgo, Vincent Regan makes for a very suitable sidekick, and Dominic West has some good fun with a particularly oily role. If you're talking volume and variety of eye candy, 300 is like Halloween Night meets Easter Sunday. In addition to the endless array of soldiers, killers, hunchbacks and blade-armed executioners (?), we're also treated to hundreds of "comic book panel"-style moments.
Characters actually stop to pose once in a while, just so we can appreciate the gooey, geeky artistry of it all. Sword battles are sped-up and slowed-down as the pulse of the battle rages on; billions of red-spot blood splatters dot the screen like so much crimson confetti; the whole movie seems awash in a gloomy, sepia-toned haze -- it's a mood that suits a strange and exciting experiment such as this one. It might be a fairly mindless affair (I'll leave the political subtext to those who choose to decipher it), but 300 is also proof positive that "mindless" movies don't necessarily have to be "bad" movies.
Basically, if you sat through stuff like Gladiator, Troy and Alexander and wished those movies were just a little more ... "fun," then I'm pretty sure you'll dig into 300 with both fists and come up grinning. It's a sundae buffet for the eyeballs, packing a fairly satisfying shot of adrenalin and moving quickly enough that the sillier moments quickly float away in favor of more sword-swingin' insanity. Plus it gives us a very viable new action star in Gerard Butler. The flick's got non-stop beefcake for the ladies, incessant and crazy carnage for the guys, and some really slick cinematography / special effects / music for all the movie geeks like me. Taken as elaborately bombastic escapism, 300 is simply a damn fun time.