Time: 117 mins.
SYNOPSIS: In 480 BC, the Persian king Xerxes sends his massive army to conquer Greece. The Greek city of Sparta houses its finest warriors, and 300 of these soldiers are chosen to meet the Persians at Thermopylae, engaging the soldiers in a narrow canyon where they cannot take full advantage of their numbers. The battle is a suicide mission, meant to buy time for the rest of the Greek forces to prepare for the invasion. However, that doesn't stop the Spartans from throwing their hearts into the fray, determined to take as many Persians as possible with them into the afterlife.
BOTTOM LINE: While I was initially intrigued by the look of this film, the idea of watching men slaughter each other for two hours kept me away. Granted, having them do it with super hard abs, almost naked, I'm sure helped convince many a girlfriend to sit through this battlefest. That being said, there's more to this action flick than merely pleasing the eye, which it does with great style. Snyder is not what you'd call a subtle director and this story plays right into his wheelhouse. There's not much to the plot that can't be explained in three sentences and yet, I have to say, I was highly entertained. Butler has charisma for days as Leonidas, the King of Sparta and a man who bows down to no one. He's bursting with strength, intelligence and fortitude, making you believe in both him and his men and truly caring for their unfortunate fate.
If it weren't in the history books, this story would be considered a fantasy. The fact that it holds some truth gives the plot additional depth, though the actual history is kept to a minimum via voice overs that help explain the political situation while keeping the action moving along. Once you see the location of their last stand, it's not hard to imagine that these men actually did what their legend claims. They are trained to be both clever and unrelenting, showing no fear and taking no prisoners. The most honorable thing that can happen to them is to die in battle protecting their homeland, which can't be said for the slaves forced to fight for the enemy.
Once you meet King Xerxes, you understand why they don't want to give in. Santoro's portrayal is fairly ridiculous, making it hard to take his character seriously. A better villian would have helped, but isn't really necessary since we all know where this story is going. It's clear that they can't hold out forever, but the battles showcase their warrior talents and make this tale somewhat believable. Their passion is so intoxicating, you come to think they might actually get away with their outrageous scheme, but alas that's not to be. For most films, this ending would be a real bummer, but the unflagging honor and tenacious spirit of the Spartans gives their sacrifice real poignancy and makes their suffering seem worth the effort.
The visual style of the film is stunning and makes you feel that you're in another place and time. From the trailers I thought it looked too much like a video game, but once I started watching the film I came to love the otherworldly effect of the computerization. It's like the graphic novel came to life, heightening the emotion and allowing for effects within the battle sequences that would seem out of place if this story was presented realistically. While there's plenty of blood and gore, it's not as shocking as it could have been due to the way these sequences were shot. This is history for the video game generation, but Snyder and company actually pull off a film that's better than it has a right to be.