Metro Weekly

The Buff Stuff

As a visually stunning war film, '300' has a lot going for it -- especially the eye-candy of the warriors themselves

Lots of hot, sweaty, buff, nearly-naked men. Do you need more convincing to run out and see 300? If so, consider this: It’s a visually stunning, high-octane, hell of a moviegoing experience.

Plus it has lots of hot, sweaty, buff, nearly-naked men.

Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel, 300 relies heavily on the original bold drawings to create a surreal world that pulses with color and raw imagery. The film uses a more recent cinematic technique, shooting the actors against a green screen, and then digitally creating the backgrounds to tell the epic tale. In 300, the technique advances beyond a gimmick — any other approach to the story would likely have ruined the material.

Warriors, come out and play-ay…

The year is 480 B.C. and the men of Sparta, who are born and raised to be warriors, must protect Greece against the armies of Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Lead by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler), they face an insurmountable challenge and must rely on their small number — a fraction of their true might — to protect their country.

Really, that’s about all you need to know. The plot is fairly simple and easy to follow, but let’s face it, you’re not watching this movie to reach a new level of understanding about the human condition. You’re there for the action. While the secondary plot lines attempt to add more depth to the tale, including the struggles of the Queen (Lena Headey) to rally more support for her husband, they’re the weakest part of the film. Removing them would do little to diminish the movie’s overall quality.

The gore inherent in telling such a bloody tale is muted by the comic strip treatment. Rather than rely on shock value as Quentin Tarantino did — very successfully — in Kill Bill, director Zack Snyder instead creates a universe of beautiful violence. With each wound gushing a splatter of blood, it’s less about death and more about art. It’s the Jackson Pollock approach to war. Even the multiple structures created with corpses (a tree, a wall) are magnificent in their own right.

Though surrounded by digitally enhanced scenery, the men of Sparta provide their own stunning sights. Butler is properly regal, determined and savage as King Leonidas. Redeeming himself from his Phantom of the Opera movie disaster, he’s the type of man you would willingly follow into war. While Leonidas’s convictions and unwavering understanding of what he must do for his people don’t allow Butler to display a wide range of emotions, it is hardly a cause for concern. The most important part to being a warrior king is looking the part. Which he does.

Area Showtimes

Starring Gerard Butler, Rodrigo Santoro
Rated R
117 Minutes
Area theaters

In a striking juxtaposition to Leonidas and the men of Sparta, Xerxes may call himself a god but ultimately he’s just a big queen. Santoro, downright dreamy in his other roles, camps it up for Xerxes by donning headdresses, multiple facial piercings, and what could be gold hubcaps around this neck. His attire, demeanor and swish all add up to one conclusion which, when reached, makes his demand that all men kneel before him even more understandable.

As well as the movie does war, it utterly fails in its ability to evoke other sentiments. Relying too heavily on stirring music to set the tone, some of the attempts at more poignant scenes are just cheesy. In this regard, the movie falls prey to that age old adage — pretty, but not much there.

In the end, the men of Sparta were good soldiers because they were just that — soldiers. They didn’t try to be something they weren’t. Likewise, 300 is a good war film when it tries to be a war film. When it steps outside that genre it flounders like a Persian on the end of a Spartan spear.

300 is a visual treat that benefits from the big-screen treatment — it’s best when experienced larger-than-life. And speaking of larger-than-life, did I mention the hot, sweaty, buff, nearly-naked men?