Friday, April 27, 2012

300 Review - THIS! IS! STUPID!

In March 2007, I was stoked for Zack Snyder's 300, while the girl I dated was even more excited. And with good reason - it's based on one of the most amazing battles in history, the promotions showed a striking visual style, and the cast had plenty of solid actors. We watched an A&E special on the fight, I got two IMAX tickets far in advance, & she brought two tiny bottles of wine.

The result was "no joy," which was a complete shock. I walked in with basic expectations; my date did the same. I couldn't believe that this insanely-hyped, every-reason-to-work blockbuster was so overdone and  tiresome. We did our part (buying tickets, showing up), only to find the movie wouldn't hold up its end of the bargain.

The problem lies in the story and characters. It's contrived and melodramatic, as well as cliched, cynical, and incredibly simple. Even the director's unique artistic style is excessive to the point of looking like self-mockery.

300 tells the movie version of Frank Miller's comic book adaptation of the real-life Battle at Thermopylae (complex, much?). Always remembered, 300 Spartans picked a perfect natural choke-point, then fought back more than 100,000 troops from Xerxes' near-unstoppable Persian Empire.

And they freaking won. This really happened, with two of the biggest civilizations in 480 BC (so it influenced history), and it's a classic (but actually more complicated) underdog story. This tale should be... just perfect for the screen. C'mon, guys, Zulu.

Unfortunately, since 300 is such a non-story, it doesn't deserve as in-depth a review as I usually give. Let me just highlight two problems:

The characters are paper-thin and unappealing. Anyone knows that Spartans weren't benevolent altruists - they were the toughest soldiers in Antiquity, but also religious extremists who loved slavery. It's not horrible when "the good guys" are historically inaccurate, but loud lines about "democracy" make me call massive bullshit...

It gets worse, since the main villain is just an inhuman freak. He's 8 feet tall and has a digitally-deepened voice. Xerxes' first appearance makes him a kinda cool, truly alien role; think Tim Curry in Legend. Sadly, as time goes on, the famous ancient ruler remains shallow. He simply exists to be a sensual and weird antagonist.

Between his look and his orgiastic retro suicide girls entourage, I kept thinking of Marilyn Manson. And I don't like Marilyn Manson...

In opposition to them is Gerard Butler's version of King Leonidas. His every line forces the story along. He's a "THIS IS THE STORY RIGHT NOW" machine, and I'm not exaggerating his volume. I was ready for a role like that in 300, really. But it's all so over-the-top that it backfires.

See, King Leo loudly proclaims everything. "BREAKFAST! IS! SERVED!," I imagine. He shouts that only Sparta can preserve democracy, whereas they had kings, and were imperialist. Also, that Athenians are "boy-lovers" and cowards. In reality, Athens fought the naval battle and Spartans made boy-love part of their army and culture.

You don't have to be smart, a history buff, or someone who can't suspend disbelief. But you can't shut your brain off if George Washington is short, with a German accent, saying the Brits are right about civil liberties, but must be defeated so he can found New Virgintania. If Xerxes is a lusty tyrant/weirdo, the hero is a caustic liar.

The second villain is far worse. For the purposes of making the audience feel more invested, the actual fighting conditions aren't bad enough. See, the other half of 300 is about Spartan politicians (all soldiers, mind you) wanting to avoid the fight for... so Leo is even more of an underdog. Thus, we get Theron, one of the most frothing, hammy, insane performances ever.

No, even worse, he calls her a "haw."

Theron exists to appall the audience and give Sparta's Queen a plot for herself. He does the first fine, mostly by how he does the second: calling the Queen a "whore," often. He coerces her into sex (for his vote) but refuses to live up to his end; god, when he screws her, he says "you will not enjoy this." He's nasty, oily and snide.

So, yes, two paper villains. Theron is killed (gasp) by the Queen when he insults her yet again. She could've done that the whole goddamn time! We had no reason to see sex assault, Snyder, you creepy ###hole. After, she shows everyone that Theron had enemy coins. But they wouldn't avoid this fight! And she didn't need the evidence, for @#%!'s sake. WHY IS HER PLOT LIKE AN R-RATED TV SERIES?

It's not only that sex assault is awful and Zack Snyder filmed it in a lurid way. No, the Queen is forced into an artificial storyline and yet she's still disempowered the entire fucking time! Instead of a moment where she flat-out smotes or outsmarts her enemy, she just snaps. She could and should have done it in the first 30 mins. Resolving plot or villains like this is not... satisfying or impressive.

A kid could've written this.

Hell, a kid probably did write this, seeing as no better characterization is given to any of the roles. Not the King, not John Leguizamo's mutated freak-Greek who betrays them because he's not invited into the battle since his hunchback means he can't lift a spear. Such stupid, stupid logic - the title should've been WTF: The Movie; this was a real invasion - simple! And that was just the first problem, folks.

This story was adapted from a comic and it shows in a bad way. It's not important to me personally, but I can't forget that actual Spartan soldiers were armored. So heavily armored that when comic creator Frank Miller tried drawing the men in their actual gear, they looked like beetles. That makes a lot of sense, because "the best warriors" don't wage war with only a shield for protection.

And since Zack Snyder seems to have a mind for mens' and womens' locker rooms, we get 300 muscled men in capes and thongs, fighting while barely dressed! And they're the homophobes, too! If it was satirically mocking action films, or if some soldiers were into each other (not that I need to see that), I'd give him credit, but Snyder isn't that clever - he even highlights that evil Xerxes is a decadent bisexual.

So now, it's Manly Beefcake Brawl: The Movie. The Spartans look silly and unprepared, like Freddy Mercury or the Village People started an army. Snyder's filming, meanwhile, favors tons of freeze-frames, slow-mo, & Matrix-style pan-shots. It's an opera on meth where the actors look like pro wrestlers.

I could go on, pick apart specific scenes, dialogue, and "the story." But why? This pic shows little-to-no effort to give paying viewers an actual film. I enjoyed maybe 20 minutes out of 117. As such, 300  is actually an amazing rip-off of movie-goers. In the end, I finally got to find out what would happen if someone made a videogame, but with film cameras: 95% pure suck.

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