Directed by Zack Snyder
Written by Zack Snyder, Kurt Johnstad and Michael Gordon based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley
This is a movie which wears what it is on its sleeve. It’s about men! Men being hard! and fighting for no good reason! Because they’re so hard and fighty. I remember first seeing this movie and knowing I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. What I did was a read Cleolinda’s 300 in 15 minutes parody beforehand. I went into the movie theatre (Reading, Courtenay Place if memory serves correctly) and laughed my way through it, based on the jokes in the parody. I’m not sure this movie was meant to be viewed as a comedy but there you have it.
It’s beautifully shot, Snyder has a lovely lush eye of contrast and saturated colour. Excellent imagery and comic frame recreations. But it can’t get away from the essential silliness of the whole thing. It’d be better I think, if it accepted its own silliness. Something more like Watchmen where there’s internal critique of what’s going on, or maybe just a little less heavy handed narration. But alas.
The slow motion is overused. It’s everywhere. The loving attention to the bodies of the Spartans, their shiny abs and their pretty cheekbones undercuts the scornful use of ‘boy lovers’ as an insult to the Athenians. The Persians pleasure house has lesbians, to show how evil and decadent they are, I guess.
The Persian volley of arrows blotting out the sun is probably my favourite sequence. The coolness of those effects gets to me. I like a good arrow volley thanks to Lord of the Rings.
The problematic parts of this movie outweigh the things I appreciate. There’s misogyny, obviously, homophobia, racism and ableism. The Persians are described as black as night and soulless so… there’s that. There’s the whole ‘if you’re not able bodied then you cannot live in Sparta let alone fight’. The rejection of the man with the twisted, deformed body. And sure, if that’s how the Spartans really were, then okay. But this isn’t a movie about realism. Every single frame of the movie is fantasy, so why do we have to see these very modern issues displayed like they’re normal? Oh wait, there’s some body shaming stuff with fatness happening too. Uh, I just… we can have fantasy movies which don’t use the easy shorthand of modern prejudices. I’m sure we can…It just doesn’t seem to have happened yet. The Huntsman: Winter’s War is pretty close. But that was made 10 years later than this.
Does it make me love the people? … no. I feel a fair bit of sympathy for the deformed dude who just really wants to earn his shield, and there’s lots of pretty people, but I love none of them. This isn’t a movie about people, even. It’s a movie of a stylised fictionalised comic of a legendary event. It’s about the ideas, but over all it’s about the coolness. And in this case, the coolness doesn’t work for me.
I find myself comparing this to Watchmen and Sucker Punch. Movies that I feel Snyder did better at. You can feel the same griminess, the same colour palette soaking all three of these movies, but both Sucker Punch and Watchment feel like better films to me, because they have characters, humans at their hearts. This is too far down the style black hole and ends up feeling like shiny garbage. And not even fun shiny garbage, like, say 2012 or Jupiter Ascending. Just… sort of dull.
Xerxes is beautiful and impressive though. I like Xerxes. Having said that, it’s a whole queer-phobic thing with him,isn’t it? Because he’s the villain and he’s wearing make up and decorations. And it’s shown to the evil sort of make up, not the dashing eyeliner that the Spartans wear.
Bechdel test: Are you kidding? Only two women speak in the whole movie. One is Gorgo, she talks only to men, and the other is the Oracle, who is unnamed, and only whispers, has to be translated by a man for the other men. This isn’t a movie where women are anything but sex objects. The queen is some way to being cool and bad ass but ultimately she’s raped as a plot point so..
THIS. IS. SPAAAAARTAAAAAA!!!
State of Mind: Ehhhhh. I don’t think I’ll be watching this again. I am honestly bored by it.