300 - dir. Zack Snyder - 2007 - USA
It probably wasn’t a mere coincidence that Warner Brothers released Oliver Stone’s “final cut” of Alexander a week and a half before unveiling 300, their hotly anticipated action epic. I made the mistake of thinking that I wanted to see Alexander in all its (lack of) glory, turning it off merely forty-five minutes into its three-and-a-half-hour running time. With its truly awful cast that’s either just painful (Jared Leto, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) or painfully miscast (Angelina Jolie, Colin Farrell), Alexander is still a mess, nearly unwatchable. With its visually sumptuous trailer, 300 should have been the counter to Alexander, a glorious and triumphant epic; instead, it’s mindless fanboy trash, both visually inconsistent and intellectually vacant.
“What did you expect, Joe? I just wanted to see a bunch of Spartans kicking some ass,” says one fanboy. Certainly, if this is your expectations, have a ball with 300, even though I found myself almost as uninterested in the battle sequences as the inane storyline. Yet, 300 is wrapped in promise. What is Zack Snyder trying to convey with the struggle of these valiant men, battling a massive Persian army in the name of liberty? Apparently nothing. You can speculate all you want about whether or not Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a thinly-veiled portrait of George W. Bush all you want. Go right ahead and make some acknowledgement that the war itself takes place in the Middle East, yet keep in mind that these “maybes” are nothings. There’s no necessity or subversion taking place in 300; it’s simply a fanboy wet dream with red herrings to trick you into thinking it has any value beyond its surface.
Political theories aside, 300 is still a shitty movie. Synder has proven that his contribution to the surprising success of the Dawn of the Dead remake was completely overshadowed by James Gunn’s (Slither) clever screenplay. Based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller (Sin City), the film is reportedly faithful to its origins, but is this a good thing? Reading terrible dialogue in the context of a comic book is one thing, but allowing it to come out of actual actors mouths is unforgivable. Allowing the easiest possible answer to a vast struggle also works fine on the page, but film is a more sophisticated medium, with a much broader audience, than a comic book. I don’t so much mind that nearly all of our heroes solve their problems with violence as I do that their problems are so facile that a mere sword can sweep us past as dramatic conflict Miller can throw in front of us. Visually, too, 300 is simple and uninteresting. Shot on blue screen, once our heroes go to battle, our setting never changes as the Persian armies come to them. With such possibility in this digital medium, 300 wastes it with charging rhinoceros, boringly constructed framing, and Matrix-esque slow-motion.