Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad, Michael B. Gordon (Graphic Novel by Frank Miller, Lynn Varley)
Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Dominic West, David Wenham, Vincent Regan, Michael Fassbender, Tom Wisdom, Andrew Pleavin, Andrew Tiernan, Rodrigo Santoro, Giovani Antonio Cimmino
R (For graphic battle sequences throughout, some sexuality and nudity)
How can one graphic novelist generate two of the most overblown pictures of recent years? 300 tells the story of the battle of Thermopylae as a small group of born-and-bred soldiers fight to protect their homeland from the invasion of Turks.
Gerard Butler leads the charge as King Leonidas, a head-strong ruler who also commands one of the most lethal fighting forces in the kingdom. By his side is his wife Gorgo (Lena Headey) who’s as strong and stubborn as her husband. They spend very little time together early in the film and much of the rest of the film fighting for each other (though it’s questionable if Leonidas is fighting more for himself and his people than for his wife).
As the threat of invasion looms, director Zach Snyder guides his camera through washed-out landscapes and hazardous terrain following Leonidas and his rebellious troops to a seaside battle of epic proportions. Meanwhile, we’re left to watch as Gorgo must fend off the Grecian council as they try to decide if they will send the rest of their troops to help Leonidas or negotiate with the advancing armies.
Frank Miller’s graphic novels, which he wrote alongside Lynn Varley, lend themselves to stylish interpretations. However, the constant focus on gloss over substance left Sin City hopelessly jumbled and have made 300 irritatingly vain.
Butler’s performance is no more nuanced than his work in The Phantom of the Opera where his charm managed to keep him afloat. The same situation befalls him here, but because of the coronary-inducing shouting, much of what could have passed for subtlety is lost. Charm aside, there is little proof that Butler can act and 300 only firms up that notion.
The rest of the cast is similarly limited in range. Only Lord of the Rings veteran David Wenham manages to provide a suitable performance. Without decent performances, we’re left with a film that’s a mere husk of the potentially engaging film it could have been.
Another graphic novel-turned film, V for Vendetta, didn’t allow its snazzy visuals sink it. That film showed us how a film can reveal an important message about society while still drawing teenage boys to the theater. 300 had the makings of a great film. Had the acting been toned down and more emphasis placed on governmental corruption and religious hypocrisy, perhaps the film might have fared better cinematically.
Like Sin City before it, 300 does a tremendous job of creating a visual style that embellishes the film. The colors, sets and costumes certainly added to the aura, but they also provided a striking counterpoint to history. The Greeks won the battle of Thermopylae not because of their superior fighting ability but because of their advancements in armor design. The Turks were largely unarmored and thus weaker in toe-to-toe combat than the Greeks.
The onslaught of comic book adaptations won’t likely end soon with the financial successes of Spider-Man, X-Men and now 300. While the quality of these films has been varied, the audience is there for them. What filmmakers need to do now is veer away from effects-driven comics flicks towards story-driven enterprises and the spiraling descent to mediocrity can finally come to an end.
May 12, 2007