Saturday, October 29, 2016

300 Is Sparta...And Also Pretty Middling

And so it was with March 2007 that Zack Snyder went from being just another director of one of the many horror remakes created in the mid-2000's to a visual auteur. In the nearly decade since 300's release, Snyder has received a, let's say, divisive reputation, with his last three films (Sucker Punch, Man Of Steel and Batman v. Superman) garnering a particularly negative response. But before all that, there was the subject of this review, 300, the film that launched a wave of new films full of slow-motion (a technique that had obviously existed before but had been made cool again by those 300 spartan warriors) and other movies starring Gerard Butler.

300 carries many traits we'd come to associate with Mr. Snyder, namely the bombastic visuals that heavily utilize angelic bright light, demeaning depictions of women and a story that leaves much to be desired. At least this one isn't as gratingly morose and pretentious as Snyder's most recent three abominations, er, movies and thus, it becomes slightly more tolerable while it runs on and on with its stale as hell characters. The threadbare premise concerns a group of Spartans, led by King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) looking to protect their land from Xerxes, a God King whose taking various kingdoms by force.

Leonidas will have none of that and sets off to defeat the dueling forces looking to enslave or kill his people. The war between the two sides is the sort of story that strikes me as one that could have greatly benefited from being told as a silent film. There are some lovely visuals in here that are clearly meant to evoke classical paintings and having the entirety of 300 rely solely on its visuals could have been an excellent idea. But, instead, incessant and useless narration cuts through the potential impact of many shots in the movie and the characters are always spouting off pretty terrible dialogue that reduces the majesty of the visuals.

300's obvious desire to create an "epic" feel and atmosphere is also repeatedly undercut by Gerard Butler, who mostly delivers his dialogue via the time-honored method of humorously repetitive yelling. We get it movie, your lead Spartans are super bro-tastic and super duper manly, please stop your main character from yelling every damn thing that comes out of his mouth, It's a sign of how poorly done the movie is that even Michael Fassbender, in one of his earliest roles as a Spartan warrior, is as bland as can be in his minimal screentime.

Even this early on in his career, Snyder's trademarks abound; an over-bearing score that tries to sell a grandiose aesthetic without justifying said aesthetic? You got it! Lots of slow-motion in the action sequences? Can do! A female character whose primary motivation involves rape? Why, of course that's in there, why would we expect any less narrative ingenuity regarding female characters from Mr. Snyder, the man who see's fit to use Amy Adams as a damsel-in-distress in his wretched DC Comics movies? It is kind of interesting to see so many facets directly attributed to his auteurism crop up in spades here, even if 300 is a bit better the nadir of his career though noticeably weaker than the only two good movies he's churned out (Watchmen and Legend Of The Guardians).

Really, a decade later, 300 is mostly just useful as the birthplace of sorts where Zack Snyder become a more influential filmmaker in pop culture. The movie itself is just a stagnant throw-away piece of action fare so drunk off its own toxic masculinity I could practically smell the scent of Axe Body Spray wafting in the air as I watched the various repetitive action sequences unfold. There's far better-crafted action movies out there to enjoy so why should anyone waste their time on the derivative and plodding stylings of 300?

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