Yet as I left the theatre, why was I not raving about it as all those other men and women? For sure, it kept me quite enraptured throughout. It is a visual feast like no other I’ve seen in a very long time. I can only think, maybe, of The Curse of the Golden Flower or any of it’s other Asian cousins such as The House of The Flying Daggers to compare to the grand imagery of thousands upon thousands of warriors in battle, but even these pale in comparison to how grand this one turned out.
Images of Spartans, properly and as near identical to the original comic book series (I am assured), make this movie a guaranteed classic. An astounding visual array of fantastic special effects, award – winning CGI and a tremendous effort throughout.
Not to mention the brilliant casting of Gerald Butler as the tough, virtuous King Leonidas, who singlehandedly imo, brings to this movie an aspect the effects cannot. And that is acting out an interesting, well – formed character in the King – made a wholly believable person entirely due to him.
Even better is Rodrigo Santoro as the threatening, overwhelming Xerxes, whose “I am kind.” monologue somewhere in the 3rd act is a thunderstorm of a performance. Almost like a dance, near trance like he convinces Ephialtes, the disillusioned, disfigured Spartan to change sides, leading Leonidas and crew to their death. So compelling is that scene I wished I could rewind it at the movie theatre to see it over again.
So what’s wrong with it? Well I’ll tell you, but you might probably not like it, and I’ll be the first to admit its borderline nitpicking.
See, I don’t think Leonidas is all that smart, and therefore found him wanting as a leader. In fact, I found all of the muscle brained Spartans – all 300 of them, the ab – fest hulking, hunking, lot of them – rather daft in their decisions, and therefore lacking the one aspect I felt all great warriors possess – the concept of intelligence in battle, of a preference for using your head first before your brawn, which ultimately wins them every fight.
Why do I ask them of these? Because they are supposedly Spartans – at one time, the best soldiers on Earth. Born and bred from their first breath to become world – class warriors of the very highest level. Men whom would find a way to beat and kill you, if you’d be unlucky enough to find yourself in battle with them.
It is with this premise therefore, that I found myself asking: “Why did he spurn Ephialtes so badly, when anyone can see he knew of paths around the mountains, and as such represented an asset to the enemy if he turns?” Many times in the film, he speaks of the ‘Free’ Greek, of men living out their lives in freedom. “Why then do they continue in such barbaric acts as choosing only perfect babies to live, and of sending out 7 year olds to fend for themselves?“. And finally, most especially: “Why in heck did Leonidas challenge Xerxes if there was even the remotest of chances that he’d not be able to bring his whole army against him?”
That whole brouhaha in the first scene where he skewers the black guy because he ‘insulted his wife?’ was thoroughly unbecoming of a soldier and a leader, in my opinion – something that someone as brash and arrogant as our President Gloria is more likely to do. And completely unnecessary in the light of the fact that by that mere act, it plunges your country into a war.
Of course I don’t really expect an answer to these questions. I’m not that stupid guy in every group discussing movies who insists on maintaining consistency (or at least I try not to be). I’m more than willing to just shove it, and enjoy it for the visual feast that it is.
And yet, I can’t help feeling these details were the ones keeping the movie from becoming great. Take for example, the Bible of all man movies – the Godfather, in which Michael Corleone feigned weakness while his assassins annihilate the heads of the five families (ok ok I know it’s a strech. Bear with me).
In one great cinematic sequence, Michael stands as Godfather to Michael Rizzi’s baptism, as one by one his enemies fall, effectively making him a Godfather in more ways than one. That is a scene for the ages – of a man, a head of a family and a leader, rising to much more than what he is. A cunning, intelligent man who thinks before he leaps. Who can fight muscle for muscle should he choose, but instead uses his brain, and consequently, rises to the top.
And so as Leonidas and his 300 pound gorillas beat their chests, raise their spears, flex their muscles and scream their love for Sparta, I was sitting there thinking, “They shouldn’t even have to be there. They should be with a stronger, bigger army, ready to fight, because Leonidas knew that when he challenges Xerxes, he’d be ready. His 300 elite soldiers would be ready. His ARMY would be ready. And all that drama, sacrifice and death would be unnecessary. The son of the Captain who looks like Keanu Reeves? He’d be alive. The one or two Sparta who die at the first battle? Alive. King Leonidas himself? With that fancy, exciting spear throw in slow motion that fell just inches off Xerxes face? ALIVE. All because all he had to do was make sure his army would be ready, before he foolishly killed those Persian messengers. All he had to do was think”.
And so therefore, 300 is a great, fantastic visual feast. Butler and Santoro? Tops. Fantastic performances all around. But a legend? As I’m sure it aspires to be, inasmuch as it speaks of true legends themselves? Nah. It’s a cool movie to watch, but it stops short.