300 (sucks)

by Wardog

Wardog also complains.
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I can barely bring myself to dignify this film with review, not because it's a brainless action-fest of spectacle over substance but because it fails miserably to deliver on any of its promises. I went to be dazzled. I went to lose myself in gratuitous and stylised violence, untroubled by plot, character or political correctness. I went to see psychotic and bearded warriors flex their oiled thighs. I went to see historical veracity get a sound bumfucking in the name of entertainment.

What I got was a hollow CGI orgy of pro-war propaganda.

The plot, such as it isn't, is actually rather promising: 300 Spartans (in tiny leather underpants sorry warbriefs or whatever the Spartans call them) go to war against an army of Persians. Like tea from the nutrimatic machine, it's almost but not quite entirely unlike the Battle of Thermopylae on which it is suppposedly based. The Spartans, thanks to their Eugenics programme, are all interchangeably manly sorts, rippling of abs and bristling of beard (their damn near psychotic king, Leonidas, played by the almost unrecognisable Gerard Quite Fit Bloke of the Opera' Butler, being the ripplingest and bristlingest of all); the Persians are effete, eye-liner sporting, multi-pierced Nubians wreathed in gold jewellery. In the opening sequence, a bunch of white chaps gang up on one and throw him into a dark pit.

On the other hand, complaining about distasteful political messages in this kind of movie is like complaining your McDonalds burger doesn't really taste like a cow, and for a more detailed analysis than I could ever manage, see Arthur on the subject here. My main problem with 300 is that it's actually a lousy action movie. I know I was meant to be swooning over the amazing visuals but I've seen that already. I loved Sin City, I thought it was arresting and bold and a wonderful homage to a long-standing series of (rather mediocre) comic books. I don't need to see them do it again, I need to see them do something new. And, quite frankly, using static comic-book style images to create a battle scene is just plain dumb: it slows the action right down and removes any sense of chaos or urgency. We might as well be watching the Spartans sewing the name tags into their leather underpants for all the high-octane thrill it provides. The thing about movies, right, is that they're meant to move, and by the twenty-seventh shot of a spear-thrust or a limb-severing in bullet-time I was bored.

For a film that prides itself on its battles, they rapidly became unremarkable. The big deal is, right, that these 300 Spartans are going to establish themselves in a narrow passageway so that the overwhelming numbers of the Persian army count as nothing. Cunning. Unfortunately, after the first battle, (which, I will say, was pretty cool) they seem to forget this and spend most of their time messing about on the beach like they're on their summer holiday, so the fights become interchangeable stab-fests against slightly different but ultimately not very memorable enemies. We all went awww when the elephants got pushed off the cliff though; it was only flicker of emotion I remember experiencing during the whole movie, if you don't count mild anxiety at the Spartan Queen's scarily pointy nipples. Since the film puts a great deal of emphasis on the Spartans as mighty warriors, trained in war and wolf-killing from birth, it would have been nice to see them, y'know, using tactics occasionally.

It also completely invalidates Leonidas's treatment of the hunch-back traitor Ephialtes. Not long after leaving Sparta, one of the Spartans notices a grotesque figure has been trailing them and it turns out to be a deformed guy who was saved from exposure and death by his loving parents who took him away. He's endearingly kitted out in the regulation Spartan underpants, cloak and shield and wants to fight to redeem his family's honour. Leonidas gives him a speech about how he cannot join the Spartan army because his deformities do not allow him to fight in the formations that were their special strength.

This would have been much more meaningful if we had ever actually seen them fighting in formation more than once.

As I said earlier, I wasn't looking for sophisticated story telling but the movie seemed to demonstrate a surprising disengagement with its own central premise. Due to a combination of the sort of static visual effects that worked so well for Sin City and lack-lustre combat, the majority of the battles were uninspiring and joyless to behold. Another, more serious example of this occurred near the end of the film in which one of the interchangeable manly Spartans, who happened to the son of the one of the other interchangeable manly Spartans, had the misfortune to get his head severed by a passing Persian solider. For the record, it was a particularly ludicrous death a warrior, trained from birth, can't hear a horse galloping up to him from the other side of the battlefield? Anyway, this leads to much manly howling.

Until this point, a certain degree of care seems to have been taken to present the Spartans as a quite alien culture: fierce, proud, and brutal, for whom the greatest glory is a beautiful death on the field of battle. I think they're deliberately presented as a unit, as a people, rather than individuals they all just call each other Spartan, which I think is meant to emphasise a different mindset and worldview to our modern, individuality-driven society. But after Spartan Son is decapitated, his grieving father steps up to the camera and, with tears rolling down his weather-beaten face, declaims the following: "I had lived my entire life without regret until now. It's not that he died for his country. It's that I never got to tell him that I loved him the most." Let's not even go into the fact it's an appalling line of dialogue, but what were they thinking, attributing modern sentiments (and sentimentality) to a race of psychotic uber-warriors who think nothing of exposing their inadequate children at birth.

On the other hand, despite its many many failings and its quite frankly putrid politics, I can't say I didn't enjoy this movie. I did, in fact, have a great time but mainly because I went with a great bunch of people and we sniped, giggled and made blowjob jokes throughout. So, if you're willing to put aside demands for quality, consistency or decency, it's not an utter failure.

I shall leave you with a snippet of dialogue that was not actually in the movie but nevertheless captures the pervasive spirit of absurdity. Near the beginning, the Spartans (who converse mainly through manly cries and cheers, thusly: Ahoo! Ahoo! Ahoo!) encounter the Arcadian army who have also been sent to stop the Persian invasion. The Arcadian leader is skeptical of the fact he leads a huge army and the Spartans are a mere 300 but Leonidas points out that he has brought 300 warriors whereas the Arcadians have brought an army of riff-raff. The exchange goes something like this:

Spartan King Leonidas: Arcadian. What is your profession?
Arcadian: I am a potter.
Spartan King Leonidas: Arcanian. What is your profession?
Arcadian: I am a blacksmith.
Spartan King Leonidas: Spartans! What is your profession?
Spartans: Ahoo! Ahoo! Ahoo!
Arcadias: They're cheerleaders?

Dear God, this movie sucks.
Themes: TV & Movies, 300
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