The Battle of Thermopylae is one of the most famous last stands in history, in 480 BC a small alliance of Greek city states led by 300 Spartans held the vast Persian army back for three days. This film is based on Frank Miller´s fantastic graphic novel and so a healthy dose of fantasy is mixed in with the historical backdrop. The result is a visually stunning and exciting action movie with no real depth.
300 opens with an account of Spartan King Leonidas and his harsh childhood training designed to make him into a formidable warrior. The Spartans were a proud military people, according to legend Spartan Kings were descended directly from Hercules, and they possessed the most feared army in the world. Upon conquering his fears and honing his killing skills Leonidas returns to Sparta and marries Queen Gorgo.
Leonidas soon hears news of an approaching Persian army under the powerful King Xerxes and despite the senate´s reluctance he leads a small force of 300 men to stand and fight against the Persian advance. Their aim is to hold the invading army until Queen Gorgo can persuade the senate to sanction an all-out war and send re-enforcements.
Zack Snyder directs and he remains true to the visual style and story which featured in Miller´s graphic novel. As with Sin City frames from the original comic are brought to life here and with the help of some excellent CGI a breathtaking battle plays out. This is light on substance but positively dripping with style and bloody violence. Snyder brings us a fast-paced and unashamedly entertaining action epic which easily holds the attention for the full 2 hour running time.
The battle is soon underway and the Spartans waste no time in proving their fearsome reputation is a worthy one, slaughtering countless Persians as they try to advance through a narrow pass. As the battle rages on the forces they encounter become more and more demonic and the furious Xerxes is exasperated at his lack of success. As with the opening training sequence of Leonidas historical accuracy is second to visual style and so Xerxes himself is a giant of a man covered in strange piercings while his army includes a number of fantastical demonic creatures.
There has been some controversy surrounding this film and it was banned in Iran, though it should really be remembered that this is merely inspired by the historical events, it is not nor does it purport to be an accurate recreation. It is also not aiming to make a political point; it is merely an all-out action movie. Though it is easy to understand irritation and annoyance at the way Xerxes and the Persians are portrayed this is more about entertainment than anything else.
The cast is very good though their characters are a fairly two-dimensional bunch. Leonidas was played by Glaswegian Gerard Butler and he convinces as the battle hardened Spartan King. Lena Headey plays his Queen, Rodrigo Santoro plays Xerxes and David Wenham (whom you may recognise from Lord of the Rings amongst others) plays Dilios.
300 is a straight-forward action epic, there is nothing to challenge the viewer mentally and non-action fans may well find themselves becoming battle weary towards the end. Despite the lack of depth the visuals are stunning and the no holds barred violence plays out at a searing pace. This may be a somewhat guilty pleasure but it is a pleasure nonetheless.