Remember there was a time before “Man of Steel” (2013), “Sucker Punch” (2011) and “Watchmen” (2009) where there was this cool looking little film back in 2007 called “300” coming out? Coming from rising director Zack Snyder who just got some critical acclaim for his remake of “Dawn of the Dead” (2005). I certainly remember and it propelled Zack Snyder’s career. Now after countless imitations we are finally getting a companion piece to the original , dubbed “300: Rise of an Empire” (2014). It’s suppose to take place during and before and after the original “300”. So in honor of the release of this new “300” film I have decided to go back and give an honest and unbiased review of the original that has since become a modern classic. What I found was a film that still holds up well over the years, in a visually striking, filled with intense and memorable action sequences but weak in character and in need of a tighter narrative.
300 tells the story of King Leonidas and his force of 300 Spartans making a stand against the Persian empire as they invade Greece in Thermopylae in 480 B.C .
With a story based around one single battle in history, it is reasonable to question how much story their potentially could be. It is worth noting that this is indeed a comic book film based off Frank Miller’s epic graphic novel. Before history buffs decide to go and rip this movie apart because of the historical inaccuracy try to remember this is in no way trying to be a history book.
The film opens up to a nice and appropriate voice over that helps navigates through this new world we are being introduced to. Setting up the background of what every Spartan must go through and following Leonidas as a child all the way to adult hood through the battle of the 300 gives this movie an almost a sit around the camp fire feel to it. Which gives the viewer a sense of investment and draws them in to listen, or in this case, watch a little more closely.
This being said, the movie was in desperate need of something like that to create a more tighten sense of narrative because there isn’t too much here. After the introduction to the world the movie rushes a little bit past the set up for the battle. Although that set up has since become classic and is still awesome to watch, there is no denying that maybe there could have been a bit more leading up to that sequence. Once the motion towards battle is upon the film, the pacing is pitch perfect. The movie moves along a well thought out pace that allow the viewers to take in the beautiful visuals and the glory of battle without it feeling like it has dragged on or going too fast.
There are two things that “300” shines at and one of those things is the sweeping visuals and art design. Every shot, pan, and slow motion shot is a work of art. Then somewhat of a newcomer, Zack Snyder showcases his talent for bringing this gorgeous looking visuals to the big screen. A talent he would bring to much of his later works after this one. I’m normally one to advocate for use of practical sets over green/blue screen sets like the ones showcased in the “Star Wars” prequels. But this is a film where it was meant to shot in front of the blue screen in order to create a more artistic feel to it. Almost as if it had been ripped out of the comics themselves. The movie doesn’t look as special now because after the release, so many tried to copy or emulate it. Now the uniqueness of this picture at the time of release has worn off a little, but none have ever come close to it.
The other thing that “300” shines at is the action sequences. Much like the art direction, the film’s battle/action sequences have been copied so much after the release that it isn’t as unique as it was upon release, however that doesn’t take away from just how sweet and satisfying they are. The scenes are brutal and never shy’s away from blood. Zack Snyder crafts action art. With a great combination of traditional Spartan battle tactics to the over the top long shots of the camera following one Spartan as he takes out maybe 10 or more enemy soldiers with blood spraying and all. No matter what action is on screen you can be sure to be gripped by it and never feels repetitive like perhaps it should. So many directors try to do make slow motion “cool” but so many fail at it, Snyder here makes it look so damn easy.
Where the film does falter is its lack of well written characters. Gerard Butler is now iconic for his turn at King Leonidas. Spouting big speeches and easy to remember quotes, Butler has etched a memorable character. However even with him in that role, he is underdeveloped. Make no mistake these are very much caricatures. In no way are well defined Shakespearian characters. In many ways it fits along with the campfire feel this tale has and the performers do a good job acting so for something that could have hurt the film badly, it is a mostly forgivable flaw.
It makes me wonder if Zack Snyder tried to write some more rounded character if we might have had a modern action masterpiece. Instead we get a memorable film that shows off sweeping visuals, incredible action and clever storytelling device that almost brings the story full circle. Not every film has to be a masterpiece but Snyder certainly showed here that he would be a forced to be reckoned with.