300 (2006)R

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Frank Miller gets his macho on. What, you thought Sin City was him getting his macho on? Ha, I say, and again Ha: this is REAL macho, that was just practice. The actors playing the good guys are basically all cast by how good an abdominal washboard they’ve got. This movie demonstrates how if you take being straight way too far, it wraps around and becomes gay. (Something the ancient Spartans had no trouble figuring out for themselves.)

Visually, it’s very exciting. It’s based on a graphic novel by Miller that tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae, in which (along with two other battles, one at sea) the Persian Empire was stopped from overrunning ancient Greece by a tiny defending force that fought to the last man.

(Okay, actually the graphic novel was largely inspired by a previous movie, The 300 Spartans (1962).)

Anyway, the comic tells the story in totally fanciful and imaginative terms, only loosely inspired by real history, and this film attempts to capture all the wild imagination of Miller’s art. To that end, most of the scenery and crowds and exotic critters are depicted via CGI instead of conventional sets and settings. So in some ways it’s a fantastic looking movie. Or, from another viewpoint, a totally fake looking one. The fakest part being the clumpy gouts of disappearing-ink digital blood.

There’s a whole lot here that can be mocked and derided. The distortions of the true history of the battle are legion, there’s an emphasis on visual coolness over believability of Matrix-like proportions, there’s the scorn with which Miller has King Leonidas (the leader of the 300 who gave their lives) refer to the Athenians as “boy-lovers” as if his own people would never ever do such a thing, and Miller actually manages to make his Spartans more sexist than the real life ones. (Sparta had far more gender equality than the other Greek states.) And then there’s Gerard Butler’s graeco-scottish accent. Which is too bad given that otherwise he’s about the only one in the cast who looks and sounds convincing as an ancient Greek.

And then there’s all the slow motion, and the slow pacing of the parts before the battle, which leaves this 115 minute movie with about 35 minutes worth of plot.

But the thing is, with all that against it, the movie still works. In the end, I can’t laugh at it. It mostly succeeds in making itself into a Bold Artistic Vision instead of just an eccentric folly. The story of Thermopylae has always been genuinely inspirational. And thankfully, despite all the historically unjustified sweaty abdominals on display (the real Spartan hoplites wore full armor), the movie does not gay it up nearly as much as I was afraid it would. Director Zack Snyder has managed to resist overly fetishizing the fighting men and their methods, despite the script containing plenty of impetus to do so. And despite efforts some have made to read into this an agenda supporting the current administration’s imaginary War On Terror, there isn’t nearly enough correspondence between this story and current events to contaminate the story with the smell of real-life failure.

So if you’re okay with bloody and bombastic battle scenes in slow motion, I can actually recommend this movie.