I used to think I had a penis until I saw 300. Once in a while, a movie comes along that's so extraordinarily butch, it makes even the most pumped-up gym-jockeys look like spaghetti-armed girls. 300 is so manly, if I was to re-write this article
, it would take up the top 15 slots all by itself. If you step back and view 300 from a distance, it basically resembles a giant, raging phallus. And so on, and so on. 300's macho credentials are assured and have been ever since the early trailers showed off muscle-bound hunks in pants kicking ethnic people into big holes. It's an absolute beast of a film, glistening with sweat and other homo-erotic juices, but it's also one hell of a story; it might be drowning in a sea of testosterone, but it's far from being a boy's own adventure. It does, however, make Troy look like a Mary-Kate and Ashley adventure.
The Spartans are a proud and pure people, who raise their young on the battlefield to ensure their men grow into strong warriors to protect their land. When demi-god Xerxes (Lost's Rodrigo Santoro) makes clear his intentions to raze Sparta to the ground, King Leonidas (Butler) leads just 300 of his finest warriors to meet the million soldiers of the Persian army in a fierce battle for survival. Using all their cunning and their battle experience, the Spartans cut through swathes of dispensable Persian sword-fodder in one of history's most violent conflicts. Meanwhile, back home, Leonidas's wife and Sparta's Queen Gorgo (Headey) must convince the Spartan elders to send out their army, lest her husband's best men find themselves overwhelmed by Xerxes' unlimited army.
Director Snyder has shown himself to have quite a knack for adapting other people's material, as he did with his Dawn of the Dead
remake in 2004. He's at it again here, this time working with Frank Miller's fantastic graphic novel of the same name - like Robert Rodriguez before him, Snyder must be thanking his lucky stars he gets to work with such rich source material, because every panel and every page of the comic transfers effortlessly to the big screen. Shot entirely on green screen, the world of 300 is a visual marvel; it's all sandy browns and muted reds, bleached colours and high contrast. From the cornfields to the mountains to inside the city walls themselves, it's clear Sparta is a world worth fighting for; vital, if we're to believe in Leonidas' cause.
Butler is a real revelation here in a barnstorming role that's all grandstand posturing and epic delivery. His King Leonidas barks like a wild dog, yelling IN CAPITALS and gritting his pearly whites as he leads his men towards certain doom - this dude could fell trees with his manhood. With his spittle-flecked speeches and a death wish Charles Bronson would kill for, the former Phantom of the Opera simply devours the scenery and leaves few left-overs for his supporting cast. David Wenham (Faramir to you and I) looks surprisingly buff as Leonidas' warrior friend and acts as the narrator of the story, but talks in a voice that's so clearly a put-on accent, it's distracting (when you've got a Glaswegian Greek leading your men into battle, accurate accents are not your biggest concern). Dominic West heads up the rest of the Spartan warriors, all of whom get few chances to shine but still get to skewer their fair share of Persians.
The battle scenes are really something else - viewers of Sin City
will know what to expect in the blood and guts stakes - with Snyder proving he's really on top of his game when it comes to on-screen violence. Everything is slightly exaggerated (the phrase 'hyper-real' was invented for this movie) so expect jets of crimson to soak the screen, ninja-style leaps and bounds and giants and mutants taking chunks out of each other in battle. It's all wonderfully OTT, but as the encroaching armies are gradually worn down and start to lose their heads (literally) it's a deliciously macabre spectacle.
All of which means that the scenes of Headey's Queen campaigning on her husband's behalf lack any real bite - ninety minutes of pure gore would perhaps be too much to ask, but Headey, attractive as she is, won't hold your attention for long, and you'll yearn for the action of the battlefield before long. Lines like "Freedom isn't free" have led some to carve out misguided political allegories from the story (War! Ethnic people! Iraq!) but that's clutching at straws - 300 is pure, unadulterated entertainment and doesn't deserve to have such lazy parallels projected upon it.
Glorious in its vision and extremely well executed, 300 is the kind of film that could turn lesbians it's so goddamn macho. Don't let the excess of six-packs and the clunky comic-book script give you the wrong idea ("Spartans, enjoy your breakfast because tonight we dine IN HELL!") because 300 is a damn fine war movie in its own right and remains supremely entertaining right up until its satisfying conclusion. If it doesn't leave you wanting to stab your mates and shout like a nutter the whole way home, then you sir, are a lesser man than I. THIS! IS! SPARTA!