Some movies are made for women, such as romantic comedies. Some movies are made for men that women don't usually mind, such as action-adventures. And then there are movies made for men and only men--300 is one such movie, and the filmmakers behind it are remorseless about that fact.
An almost too faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's award-winning graphic novel of the same name, 300 taps into everything atavistic in man's nature: blood, violence, lust--and, of course, his need to protect his family, his house, and his country. That is what drives King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) of Sparta in 480 B.C. to march 300 of his most loyal soldiers to a place called Thermopylae to confront an invading army of 1 million Persians even as the rest of his Greeks--this being before Greece's city-states were united--instead opt to celebrate a religious holiday. Leonidas, who like the battle 300 is based upon is historically real, believed in man's right to live free and for three days fueled his warriors, some of the best-trained the world has even known, with such democratic rhetoric. For three days, the Spartans did the impossible and held off the Persians and their egomaniacal emperor, Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro). Their inevitable and eventual defeat inspired the rest of Greece to unite and, in doing so, build Western civilization's first great democracy.
Director Zack Snyder (2004's Dawn of the Dead) understands the balance between historical reality and the mythology that grows out of it and renders the movie using a comic book-esque CGI technique much like Sin City's (also based on a Miller graphic novel), except in full color so that the exaggerated, stylized carnage takes on an almost poetic beauty while remaining historically accurate. Well, sort of. The result is bloodshed on a scale rarely seen in the movies, but it doesn't offend, horrify, or even come across as gratuitous. It proves acceptable and even, quite astonishingly, elegant because of the relationship between the gore and those creating it with such courage and even grace--the Spartans, men who dreamed of "beautiful deaths." These guys were the Klingons of Greece, decked out in togas and buskins.
Much of this balance between history and myth--or even mythmaking--is a credit to Miller, whose comic-book source material is often re-created frame by frame, but just as much is due to the cast of musclebound male actors led by Butler. They slice into their roles so passionately that it's hard not to leave the theater wanting to cut off a few Persian heads of your own.