Around the year 480 BC, an historical battle between a group of Greek city-states and a bullying Persian army began in a mountain pass of Thermopylae (literally translated to “Hot Gateway”). This epic war saw the Greeks vastly outnumbered by the self-appointed god-king Xerxes, who had spent years overthrowing other city-states to build up his human reserve. See, Xerxes is a classy king. He likes to send messengers to each threatening city-state, offering to spare the citizens in exchange for the allegiance to him. Well, when his trusty foot soldier ventured into Sparta, a town known for their militaristic nature and tough, no-bull-shit attitude, their refusal to join up with Xerxes was never heard. Spartan King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) all but told the offending Persians to fuck off and kicked them into a deep hole. Just like Helena before him, this kick ignited the fury of both the Greeks and Persians.
Leonidas organizes 300 of Sparta’s best men to fight off Xerxes’ army, each man wanting the glory of dying in battle to defend their great city. While they’re out getting all hot and sweaty in just tiny pairs of war shorts, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) remains in Sparta trying to drum up support of the Spartan council to ready troops for war only to prove just how fierce Spartan women are when she’s threatened, assaulted, and almost killed by Theron (Dominic West), a senator more interested in power than glory. Two stories diverge in the course of Zach Snyder’s 300: one of war and glory and another of corruption and treachery.
Why We Love It
Before we get all nit-picky, 300 isn’t exactly historically accurate. I mean, King Leonidas did lead 300 Spartans to their death at the Battle of Thermpylae. King Xerxes’ massive Persian army did falter a little at the strength of the Spartan men, but defeated them after a three-day battle. Even the Spartan women were as beautiful and as tough as the film suggests. And in my imagination all the soldiers are impossibly sexy and beardy, but who really knows about that part. However, Snyder’s career-making film is based off a graphic novel loosely grounded in the history of a battle so long ago it’s impossible to trust what’s really true. It’s actually the fun kind of history, the melding of fiction and fact, just like Herodotus would like.
Most audiences don’t go to films expecting a great history lesson, rather they want an engaging story from the moment they start to the second the final credits roll. That, my friends is exactly what I end up with every time I watch 300. From the moment adult Leonidas is introduced we know this dark and violent film is going to be impossible to turn off. He cherishes his queen, his son, his beloved Sparta. His loyalty and generous nature make him an easy king to love in return. When he comes back from the rapey Ephors (see-ers) with news that Sparta will fall to the Persians, his men readily line up to battle alongside him. Together they head out, seeking honor and the heads of Persians to add to their shields.
It’s painful to watch such a tragic story, as we know this isn’t going to end well for these men. But, that’s the point. The sense of urgency on screen coupled with the provocative voice of our questionable narrator keep us rooting for the doomed Spartans.
Moment We Fell In Love
In the first ten minutes Leonidas is asked by the Persian messenger to think about his final words carefully, as killing a messenger is a quick way to war. He turns, looks out as his people and his beautiful queen. Upon turning back to the Persian he spits out that the man has insulted his queen, threatened his people and for that he deserves to die. “This is Sparta,” a final blow so simply pointed and built with such thought.
Sparta is not just a city. It is an identity and a way of life to these citizens. They believe in the traditions and expectations their culture holds. Women are almost equal to men, as they birth Spartan men—an interesting form of ancient feminism and something Snyder tries to revisit in all his lady characters. Although they don’t go to battle, the women are just as tough as the men and act as motivators for their greatness. Leonidas has an almost modern appreciation of his queen and that added element makes them not only a powerful couple but also an ideal fantasy.
I’d be remiss to leave out the almost pornographic elements of 300 men walking around angry, naked, and sweaty, as I am a lady of a certain carnal reputation. Snyder is the king of what I like to call, equal opportunity objectification. He didn’t have to put the characters in just their skivvies, but he did. His commitment to nakedness is noticed and appreciated, and lucky for us the film is actually fun AND sexy.
300 balances the darkest parts of human nature with high melodrama and wraps it all up in a tasty, fulfilling package. Snyder, taking a page out of Robert Rodriguez’s book, made a film that looks and feels exactly like the graphic novel on which it was based. Even with five years advancement into CGI, the animation and saturation still look stunning, and the story remains just as fun as when it first premiered. Also Gerard Butler and Michael Fassbender have never looked hotter.