Few films come and go with much fanfare. However, even fewer films attract significant notice without relying on the popularity of previous entries in a series, such as the upcoming Spider-Man and Harry Potter films. Like last year’s ludicrously fun Snakes on a Plane, 300 unexpectedly gained a massive amount of attention on the Internet, and the film subsequently became one of the most anticipated films of the year. However, while the film is indeed strong, 300 is not quite the masterpiece its marketing purports it to be.
Impending superstar Gerard Butler delivers a fiercely powerful performance as King Leonidas, who leads an army of 300 of Sparta’s finest soldiers in a suicide mission against the invading Persians. While much of his performance takes place in mid-battle, Butler commands the screen as easily as his character leads the Spartan army, providing each line with a roaring intensity befitting a man as fervently loyal to his nation and his men as Leonidas. After stunning standout performances as the title characters in Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera, Butler is poised to become a household name, and 300 offers perhaps one of the best performances of his promising career.
In addition to Butler, Lena Headey makes a strong impression as Leonidas’ wife, Queen Gorgo. Forced to deal with the bureaucrats of Sparta in her husband’s absence, Gorgo faces off against a traitorous citizen (Dominic West) as she campaigns to send additional troops to aid the 300 Spartans en route to their deaths.
Exhibiting strength equal to that of any of her male counterparts, Headey manages to create a believable and compelling female character in a film otherwise teeming with testosterone. This fall, she is slated to assume the lead role in The Sarah Connor Chronicles, a television series set after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. If her performance in 300 is any indication, Headey is well suited for this part as well.
Reverently directed by Zack Snyder (Dawn of the Dead), the film stays remarkably true to the spirit of the graphic novel on which it is based. After the $70 million theatrical run of Sin City, it’s unsurprising Hollywood would once again come knocking on author Fank Miller’s door. Like that earlier film, 300 retained Miller’s surreal visual style and trademark wit.
However, while the script remains focused on the Spartan army, the audience never truly connects with any of the soldiers or their enemies. Other than Leonidas and Gorgo, the characters are little more than cardboard cutouts, myopic in focus and lacking in personality. Although Miller’s dialogue remains undeniably strong, the film relies a bit too much on narration, and at nearly two hours, its thin plot is sometimes plodding and predictable.
The film sets out to tell the story of a civilization so driven by war that its most accomplished soldiers are willing to sacrifice their lives on a matter of principle, to become martyrs for Spartan freedom. It succeeds remarkably in recreating the Spartan world, but its real achievement lies in its breathtaking visual effects. Like Sin City, the film was shot almost entirely on blue screen, with computer effects digitally creating the distinctive look of 300. Undoubtedly, its visuals are certain to impress viewers.
While 300 fails to transcend the storytelling of Sin City, the film featuresground breaking visual effects and strong lead performances by Butler and Headey. All in all, 300 is an intriguing cinematic experiment and a testament to the power of Miller’s vision.