Reviewed on 2007 March 21
I ordinarily don’t like a movie that has a minimal plot used as just an excuse to hold a bunch of cool images together, but this one is different. The movie and its characters have the depth of a mud puddle, but it’s like a Boris Vallejo painting come to life.
This is based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel about the Battle of Thermopylae. The story is narrated by Dilios (David Wenham), a Spartan with a gift for story-telling. We start with the training of young Leonidas, showing us how the youth are taught to fight and be fearless. They brave the elements and wild animals, and if their physiques are any indication, learn to crack walnuts with their lateral obliques. After years of such training, we have the stalwart King Leonidas, who has a strong kingdom, the lovely Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) and a son. One day a mouthpiece for King Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) comes to his courtyard, telling the Spartans to surrender and that one day they too will be part of the Persian empire. Leonidas gives him a speech that can really be summed up in two words, and prepares to fight.
For various reasons, some of the Spartans don’t think they should fight yet, so Leonidas just takes a walk, and happens to take 300 of his best friends with him. They just happen to be on their way to block the Persians at Thermopylae, armored, and make the people in the BowFlex ads look like pansies, that’s all. They make their way to the only road the huge Persian army can pass and dig in for the fight of their lives.
I’ve heard some complaints that the movie was racist and that the Persians were depicted as monsters, or that it wasn’t an accurate reflection of history. I looked at it from the eyes of Dilios telling the tale. Most bards exaggerate fights against their enemies. (“He had two heads, and they were both drooling ebola! And I took ’em both off with a spork!”) And underneath the bling and the Grace Jones make-up, Xerxes was fine. I don’t think Miller had an axe to grind. If the roles had been reversed, the Persians would have the six-packs and the Spartans would’ve had the piercings. Sure it played very loosely with the history — there’s no way half that stuff on the battlefield could occur in nature — but it never pretended to be a serious historical piece.
Speaking of six-packs… Sean Connery is from Scotland. Angus Macfadyen is from Scotland. Gerard Butler is from Scotland. Dear God, what’s in their water??
Two chocolate morsels, and a glass of mavrodaphne. It’s loud and dumb and gaudy, but still so entertaining that I’m going to get the DVD when it comes out.