"300" is not a particularly good movie. The comic-book tale of the battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.) brims over with excessive nudity and violence. The dialogue is often laughable -- lines like "This is madness! This is Sparta!" leap to mind.
David Wenham, who plays a Spartan soldier, narrates throughout the movie; his narration is guffaw-inducing. "Only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans. Only the hard . Only the strong ," Wenham gravely intones. At another point, over footage of Spartans graphically slaughtering the oncoming hordes of Persian dictator Xerxes, Wenham intensely growls, "We do what we've been trained to do. We do what we've been bred to do. We do what we were born to do." There are no descriptors for this kind of purposeful anti-subtlety.
Nonetheless, "300" is drawing a crowd. It is drawing a crowd for two reasons: First, the movie is visually interesting, combining over-the-top comic-book imagery with live-action realism in the same way "Sin City" did. Second, Americans are interested in watching movies that pit good against evil.
The Spartans of "300" are brutal. The opening scene of the movie depicts a Spartan soldier, standing on a cliff overlooking a valley of skulls, inspecting a baby to make sure it is hardy enough. If the baby is too weak, we are told, it will be left for dead. This isn't exactly civilized conduct.
But the Persian hordes make the Spartans look like members of a British tea club. Xerxes is an androgynous giant of a man with more body piercings than Christina Aguilera. His camp is full of decadent bisexual promiscuity. He seeks worldwide dictatorship and threatens Sparta with mass murder of its male citizens, rape of its female citizens, and use of women and children as slaves if Sparta fails to submit to his rule.
The Spartans, by contrast, say they are fighting for "freedom." In which case, "300" is an old-fashioned battle between the forces of freedom and the forces of oppression.