Consider “300” a palate cleanser for comic book fans still tasting the bitter swill that was “Ghost Rider.” The adaptation of comic book auteur Frank Miller’s limited series re-creates the fury behind one of history’s most famous battles, the Battle of Thermopylae — known to some as the “Greek Alamo” — in 480 B.C. The number 300 counts the Spartan soldiers who stared down a Persian army of incalculable size. That the Spartans made a stand is the stuff of not just legends but some testosterone-fueled filmmaking. It’s hard to fathom a film more geared to the chest-thumping male in us all.
Spartan King Leonidas (“The Phantom of the Opera’s” Gerard Butler) learns that a mass of Persian troops is lurking near Greece with a plot to overtake and enslave his people. He consults with the local prophets, a gangly assortment of freaks who use beautiful women as their medium, but they instruct him to stand down.
Leonidas ignores their advice. He’s been trained to fight since he was a slight child, and he’ll gladly sacrifice his life for country.
So will a band of uber-warriors some 300 strong, who also share their king’s lust for battle.
They’re pretty good at it, too.
Leonidas strategically puts his soldiers along a narrow passage that takes the advantage away from the huge opposing army. For a while, it’s a mismatch. Leonidas and crew lay the smack-down on their enemies, be it monstrous beasts or a giant with a neck the size of a Buick.
But how long can they survive such odds?
“300” takes a comic book page out of the “Sin City” playbook. The screen is bathed in charcoal blacks, with some sequences looking as if they were ripped directly from Mr. Miller’s ink well. The blood spilled is a dark maroon, with only the Spartans’ capes standing out in a brilliant red hue.
The cast of “300” may not have auditioned so much as submitted their body fat percentages. Bally’s or Gold’s Gym should have tried some marketing tie-in here, given the assortment of ripped abs and bulging biceps on display.
Leading the six pack is Mr. Butler, who cuts a dynamic figure as the hard-charging king. We’ll forgive that he can’t conquer his Scottish accent long enough to complete any one scene.
But the unsung hero here is director Zack Snyder, whose sole prior credit is helming 2004’s “Dawn of the Dead” remake. Mr. Snyder orchestrates the violence with a touch of pageantry, no small feat given the mayhem on display. “300” isn’t for the faint of heart or anyone against bombastic scores or serious male bonding.
Mr. Snyder’s adventure skimps on nuance, primarily regarding the reason for the Persian army’s advance. A subplot involving Leonidas’ wife (Lena Headey) and the politics back home never heats up, and for every clever piece of dialogue another two or three fall to the ground like a skewered soldier.
They still provide a breather from the near constant battles, which occasionally grow stale despite the theatrical presentation.
Mr. Miller based his saga on history. But movie fans won’t have to consult their textbooks to dig this action opus.
RATING: R (Strong violence, gory imagery, nudity, adult language and sexual situations)
CREDITS: Directed by Zack Snyder. Written by Mr. Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley.
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
WEB SITE: https://300themovie.
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS