Another month goes by, and it’s time for the excellent Genre Grandeur over at MovieRob! The theme for August was war films, and I chose a film about a different kind of war; that is, the Battle of Thermopylae that occurred during the Persian Wars in Ancient Greece. There have been lots of amazing reviews on many and varied war films, which you can see here. Meanwhile, here’s my review on Zack Snyder’s 300 (2007).
Based on Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, 300 (2007, dir. Zack Snyder) is a fictionalised retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in the Persian Wars, in the year 480 BCE. We follow King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) as he and 299 other Spartans meet the Persian army of the God-King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) in battle. Despite their army of 300 being outnumbered by the thousands, the Spartans fight ferociously in order to defend their homeland. Back in Sparta, Leonidas’ wife Gorgo (Lena Headey) rallies support for his cause amongst his political adversaries, namely one Theron (Dominic West), whose sway with the Spartan Council has the potential to assist Leonidas and the other Spartans at Thermopylae.
Gerard Butler plays King Leonidas, in probably the most ferocious role of his I’ve seen. 300 plays host to some of the most iconic lines in pop culture (see: “This – is – Sparta!”), and thanks to Butler, these lines never feel awkward or intentionally dramatic. Even though he plays a toughened warrior very successfully, the moments where Butler has the opportunity to show more emotional depth ensure that his performance isn’t entirely one-note. As Queen Gorgo, Lena Headey shows off some of her ferocity as well. Even though she isn’t at the battle, she attempts to assist her husband as well she can, being a woman in a man-led society. I also really enjoyed Headey’s performance here. I think she plays a very convincing strong mother character, as also evidenced by her amazing performance as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. It is also worth noting that there’s a surprise appearance by Michael Fassbender (at least I was surprised, not sure whether other people might be), who occasionally provides some levity during and after intense fighting scenes.
In true Zack Snyder style, 300 feels like a true graphic novel adaptation, with exaggerated violence and splashes of blood, and dramatic moments that feel like they could have been translated directly from the source material. The film overall has the tone of a complete epic, with hyped up battle scenes that are orchestrated to be as impactful as possible. Not only are we treated to battle scenes that are choreographed to perfection, but there’s enough blood and violence to satisfy the most seasoned of gore enthusiasts. Certain dramatic moments of the battles themselves are presented with a mix of slow motion and fast motion movements to increase the feelings of tension that are already at quite high levels.
The direction is pretty great, but the cinematography and art direction is better. Throughout 300, the colour palette sticks to sepia and antique tones, with high contrast during some scenes and interesting enhancements to the eyes and faces of certain characters. Some scenes really do look like moving pages of a graphic novel. It was this film’s use of colour that really drew me in at the very beginning. Additionally, throughout all dramatic moments of this film, booming music can be heard, keeping the audience on edge at all times. The sound design is particularly excellent, especially during battle scenes where it seems that we can hear all kinds of gory noises at all times.
Some may say 300 is overly simplistic and light on story for its length, and some may say that it is just a big excuse for violent effects and the showing off of blatant historical inaccuracies, as well as uncomfortably racially discriminatory undertones. In terms of my own criticism, there are moments of awkward dialogue that feel too modern for the context, and it is clear that gross liberties have been taken with the story as at times it all feels a bit too straightforward.
But despite these criticisms, in my opinion, 300 is a really engaging, brutally full-on war film, with thrilling fight scenes and some simply awesome direction, not to mention stunning cinematography and art direction. I loved seeing this story come to life, not just in terms of the tense battle sequences, but also in terms of seeing the culture and mythology of Sparta and Ancient Greece and its impact on the characters. 300 isn’t normally the type of film I would enjoy, but sometimes you can’t go wrong with a swords-and-sandals epic, particularly one that looks and sounds as good as this.
Watch the trailer here.
Watch this film on Amazon!