300: On Second Thought Thursday

Dear 300, thank you for giving us Spartacus and Gerard Butler but please, take back CrossFit.

AT FIRST, I WAS LIKE: 300 is a visual treat! Zack Snyder’s biggest strength is making his heroes larger than life and it’s never been more prevalent than in 300. “We Spartans are descended from Hercules himself,” says Dilios. These Spartans aren’t soldiers, they’re gods and every shot establishes them as such. The makeup and costume design is top notch too. On one side, you have the Spartan uniform which is iconic and very vibrant with their simple red capes, and on the other side, you have Xerxes’ army which has a bunch of wild designs. Xerxes and his messengers are all decked out in bling as opposed to the Immortals who are more monstrous and demonic in their designs. I understand where the controversy in depicting the Persians as they are in the film but it never seemed to bother me. Granted, I was a brain dead teenager at the time so I never picked up on the subtext, but even then, it’s tonally consistent with the rest of the movie. How else would you interpret an army of villainous invaders from a foreign land when the heroes themselves are depicted as gods? 300 is a hyperreal depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae where the protagonists are gods and the antagonists are demons so it seems unfair to place criticism on a choice that seems to have been intentional from the start.

BUT NOW, I’M LIKE: There’s one thing that seems to be consistent with Snyder films, and it’s that he’s thematically inconsistent. ” ‘Goodbye, my love.’ He doesn’t say it. There’s no room for softness. Not in Sparta. No place for weakness. only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans. Only the hard, only the strong.” This is what Dilios says in voiceover during King Leonidas’ goodbye to his Queen Gorgo as Leonidas and his men prepare to embark for war. This is the overall tone for the entirety of 300 which glorifies the warrior mentality. However, there’s one sequence involving Captain Artemis following the death of his son Astinos that seems to be a critique on this sort of masculinity. “I had lived my entire life without regret until now. It’s not that my son gave up his life for his country. It’s just that I never told him that I loved him the most. That he stood by me with honor. That he was all that was best in me.” This is about the only time Snyder challenges this idea on what being a man is but it’s only ever surface-level and it never has any sort of payoff at the end. I don’t know if I was looking too much into something that was never really there, but during my rewatch, I couldn’t help but feel as if Snyder’s intent was to deconstruct our notions of masculinity but his message is drowned out with all the glamorous shots of war, shields, and rippling abdominals.

IN THE END, I’M JUST LIKE: It’s amazing how culturally relevant this was back in the day. It was the breakout role for Gerard Butler, it influenced shows like Spartacus, and it’s the go-to Halloween costume for every Zyzz wannabe. This is the most iconic dude-bro movie to ever exist and despite how badly it’s aged in terms of its representation of foreigners and its view of masculinity, this still remains an enjoyable viewing experience for me. If there’s one consistency among the inconsistency, it’s that Snyder shoots action in a way very few can. With the exception of the warehouse sequence in Batman v Superman, this is probably the best action Snyder’s ever shot. It’s epic but never overbearing and for $70 million it looks a lot more expensive than that. Every action trope you can expect from a Zack Snyder movie is present in 300, but unlike Man of Steel’s overuse of destruction porn, 300’s action is exciting rather than draining. Rewatching 300 in context of Snyder’s other films, this fits right in with his work. He’s never been one for humanizing his characters, but he knows how to establish his protagonists as icons and larger than life. In turn, it’s difficult to relate to these characters on a personal level but Snyder’s technical mastery is enough to get his audience involved with the story even if it’s only surface level.

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