After bringing in more than $70 million in its opening weekend, comic book adaptation 300 made history as the highest grossing film debut for the month of March and the third highest opening for an R-rated movie (after The Passion of the Christ and The Matrix Reloaded). Without a single recognizable star among its cast and a fraction of the production budget, it also far outperformed the opening tallies of predecessors like Troy and Gladiator.
This movie is drawing more than crowds, its drawing hordes.
Despite its hard R rating for nudity and violence, there’s good reason for this. Where last year's despicable, pro-terrorist comic-book-based flick, V for Vendetta, made pathetic claims for cultural relevance, 300 is the real deal. The filmmakers didn't have to impose parallels with today’s geo-political reality; history had already done it for them.
When the Persian King Xerxes demands submission from the entire Western world, with few exceptions, most regions turn knock-kneed and cave. Leonidas, King of Sparta (Gerard Butler) refuses to exchange the future of his people as a free state for a tenuous and temporary peace. Instead, he begins to prepare for battle.
Sparta's Ephors, the cloistered academics of their time, claim that the gods don’t want war and won’t support Leonidas' stand. Rather inconveniently, neither will Sparta's governing council. By law, the king cannot override the will of these two groups, and so he finds a loophole by taking 300 of his personal entourage to Thermopylae, also known as the "Hot Gates," a strategic corridor where they and a few thousand neighboring soldiers hope to hold off hundreds of thousands of invading Persians.
In the meantime, back in the city, an oily politician (Dominic West of The Wire) undermines the King's mission at every turn, arguing for diplomatic resolutions and claiming that Leonidas has started an "illegal" war that will draw destruction down on all. Leonidas wife, Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey), counters that it is Persia who began the war and urges the Spartan congress to commit more troops. Amazingly, for today’s cinema, the oily politician and the waffling congress are not the heroes of our story. Soldiers—single-minded and un-conflicted—are.
Not too surprising then, given the setup and the protagonists, critics from the country’s biggest newspapers are giving 300 a thumbs down.
Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe calls the film "Hollywood action porn" (this bit of indignation from the man who gave Kill Bill 4 out of 4 stars) and pouts that it was too busy "trumpeting such abstract principles as Glory, Duty, and Destiny" (you know, those embarrassing old saws).
Megan Basham is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide To Having It All
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