For those that haven’t seen 1962’s The 300 Spartans or read The Histories by Herodotus, let me briefly supply the plot: 300 Spartans lead by King Leonidas (The Phantom of the Opera’s Gerard Butler) took a stand at the Pass of Thermopylae against an army of over one million Persians led by self-proclaimed god-king Xerxes I (Lost’s Rodrigo Santoro). Each of the 300 Spartans died but not before holding the pass for two days and allowing the rest of Greece to gather their forces and ultimately defeat the Persians. The film doesn’t claim to be a 100% accurate historical account but rather how the Spartans would tell their story and elevate history into myth. The film lives somewhere in between and the result is a surreal blend that somehow manages to be both extraordinary yet proximate.
What keeps the film from being more than just a two-hour magnificently choreographed battle is the wise addition of Leonida’s wife Gorgo (Imagine Me & You’s Lena Hedley) providing both emotional support to her husband and a political ass-kicking at home as she tries to prevent the slimy maneuvering of Theron (The Wire’s Dominic West). The strong chemistry between Butler and Hedley as well as the scenes in Sparta help remind the audience why this battle is important. If the battle scenes are the sweet, delicious meat of the film (and believe me, you’ve never seen anything quite like them), then Gorgo’s story is the vegetables you have to eat if you want to grow up big and strong and protect Sparta.
While the film works in the broad strokes of mythology (Freedom! Sacrifice! Love!) rather than the nuance of history and philosophy (like how the Spartans can proclaim freedom when they’re denied the freedom to become anything but perfect soldiers), it’s still a magnificent affair that may be very modern in its look and violence but as classic as the 1962 film that inspired Miller to render the tale as a graphic novel in the first place.
If you’re planning on seeing 300, please prepare for glory. You will enjoy this.