Movies / Comics Movie Reviews

Frank Miller's 300

By Geoff Hoppe
March 11, 2007 - 16:37

You know what I want to see, just once? A movie set in ancient Greece or Rome where none of the characters have British accents. I yearn to see Alexander the Great crest a hill, majestically leading a legion of Macedonian cavalrymen, beckon regally at the approaching Persian army, turn to his men and barks orders in a thick South Carolina drawl. Of course, I also yearn for the day when Marcus Aurelius has a Chuck Yeager twang, but maybe that one isn’t such a good idea.  


My critical estimation of Frank Miller has dropped after this movie. I loved his art in Daredevil, though I blanched at some of his decisions as writer. I loved The Hard Goodbye and That Yellow Bastard, but thought Family Values and Hell and Back were pointless fluff. Now, with 300, Frank Miller attempts to stretch his vision of life over an actual historical event. As a result, his vision is overtaxed like a shred of plastic wrap on a king size casserole. Miller’s devil-may-care, Mickey Spillaine-meets-the-Lone Ranger style works for Marv, Bruce Wayne and Matt Murdock, but doesn’t do justice to Leonidas, Dienekes, and the other historical Spartiates.


300 is Frank Miller’s interpretation of the immortal battle of Thermopylae. The key word in that last sentence is “interpretation,” as Sparta looks like Krypton, the Spartans look like Abercrombie models, and their leather speedos even match. Despite the kink, hell’s brewin’ in Hellas as Xerxes and his horde of hairy plumbers blunder noisily towards Greece. As in real-life history, Xerxes has set his sights on Greece and won’t be denied. Unlike real history, he dresses like Beads Bangles n’ Baubles Barbie (not trademarked). After a gunboat diplomacy moment with the Persian ambassadors, King Leonidas of Sparta takes 300 soldiers to Thermopylae—the “hot gates,” in English—to halt the Persian offense. What ensues is an impressively filmed series of battles that give the viewer nothing of substance.


300 also proves that bad historical fiction is the inverse of good comedy: the more you know, the worse the film gets. In all fairness, though, 300 clearly isn’t intended to be historical fiction, per se. It’s a very loose interpretation by a man successful enough to get away with one. Frank Miller’s solo work always indulges heavily in suspended disbelief, but it’s harder to stomach in 300 than it is in his other works like Sin City, Ronin, or even Dark Knight Returns. In Sin City, the over-the-top elements are made believable by an expertly crafted atmosphere. In 300, however, the fact that the story purports to be history impedes the viewer’s enjoyment. Sure, the visuals are beyond stunning, but it’s a safe bet the Persian Empire didn’t have any bulbous, axe-handed mutant crab-men in their service. After all, they hadn’t conquered San Francisco yet (ba doom CHING!!! I’m here till Thursday).


I'd be so tempted to magic marker little eyebrows onto it.
Frank Miller’s signature sex and violence are here, in all their nude, gooey cross section-y glory. If you happen to be a parent reading this review, don’t take the kids to see it. Not just because of the gore—but because watching adult content while sitting next to your parents is a profoundly scarring experience. Trust me. Miller also reveals the same paranoia towards religious and political figures that characterized Sin City. OK, MR. MILLER. WE GET THE IDEA. YOU DON’T LIKE ORGANIZED RELIGION OR GOVERNMENT. Miller writes politics as well as Henry James writes fight scenes, and the last time his take on religion was interesting, there was an oil shortage and a numbnut Georgian peanut-farmer inhabiting 1600 Pennsylvania.  


Despite my complaints, the battle scenes are impressive. Zack Snyder’s time spent directing commercials prepares him well to grab an audience’s attention. As in his last film, 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, action scenes are the highlight of the film. As for the rest of the movie, there’s more slow motion than one hundred combined entrance scenes from teen girl movies. If you look real hard, you’ll even see Rachel Leigh Cook walk by in the background of one scene as Sixpence None the Richer tries vainly to play over the din of combat.


Tell me, are the earrings too much? Be honest.
The only actor at home in his role is Rodrigo Santoro, larger-than-life as the “god-king” Xerxes. His voice and screen presence suit the epic intentions of Frank Miller and Zack Snyder. The rest of the cast struggles with the same issue that plagued the actors in Sin City: they don’t know how to speak Frank Miller’s dialogue. In fact, I don’t think anyone knows. Neither Sin City nor 300 show Miller at his most linguistically refined, but even in his better books, like Daredevil and Batman, his dialogue isn’t meant to be spoken. It’s too over-the-top to be believable; it depends on the reader’s imagination to “sound” good. That fact speaks well for Miller’s talent as a writer, because it takes a different talent to write language that looks good on paper vs. language that sounds convincing when spoken. Too bad for Miller, it makes film adaptations of his graphic novels inadvertently silly.

Worth the money? Wait until it hits the cheap theaters. For 10$, save it for Spider-Man 3.

Last Updated: January 24, 2022 - 11:00

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