Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, 300 is directed by Zack Snyder, who to this point has a pretty light resumÃ©. The plot of the film can be summarized pretty quickly: In 480 BC, Persian king Xerxes’ army sweeps through Greece, laying waste to any city in opposition to its goal of conquest. King Leonidas, ruler of the city of Sparta, and his 300 best soldiers face Xerxes’ army of 100,000 strong in defiance of the self-proclaimed god-king.
Let’s get this out of the way right now: Don’t go into this film expecting any historical accuracies beyond wardrobe, set design and a broad, basic time line of events. 300 is sort of an alternate-universe version of the Battle of Thermopylae. Throughout the film, there are a few little events here and there that are interpretations of historical fact, such as the scene shown in the trailers where King Leonidas throws Xerxes’ messenger into a well (such was the documented fate of the real Persian envoy sent to Sparta to deliver Xerxes’ demand of submission). But beyond that, it’s artistic license all the way, and that’s not such a bad thing.
Character relationships are also pretty cut and dried. It only takes a few lines of dialog exchanged between characters to lay out how they feel about each other. There’s nothing to complicated: King Leonidas loves his wife. He loves Sparta. His men love him. King Xerxes loves himself. It doesn’t get much more complex than that. The actors do a great job with the material; they know the film and their characters, and they play their parts with conviction. One need only look at the intensive training that the actors underwent for the film to see that they’re dedicated.
300 doesn’t pretend to be a deep film (although that doesn’t stop many people from ridiculously claiming it to be an allegory for the US’ current relationship with Iran, despite the fact that the graphic novel was published in 1998). It’s a beautifully filmed and performed action movie with a very basic plot. The simplicity of the plot does tend to make it sound very similar to other films. Many of the film’s themes bring to mind Braveheart. Without giving too much away, 300 contains many scenes that are very similar to Mel Gibson’s 1995 epic. 300 lacks the complicated thematic layers that would have put distance between it and similarly themed films. In the end, the film holds its own as an amazing piece of motion picture art, but you can’t quite shake the William Wallace aftertaste. Like the Spartan warriors themselves, the film is lean and sinewy, with only the muscular visuals covering its skeletal frame of a plot. There’s very little thematic fat in to get in the way of this visceral experience. As King Leonidas explains in the film, a Spartan Warrior is bred to go to war, and that’s exactly why this film exists.
If you ignore the basic plot and common themes, you’ll enjoy 300 for what it is: art it motion.