A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this is no Masterpiece Theater rendition of ancient history. Like Sin City, 300 is an ultraviolent tale based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller. There's blood galore as the Spartans -- trained war machines -- defend their land against Xerxes' massive Persian army. Battlefield valor and violence is glorified by the Spartans, who take no prisoners and show no mercy. Heads literally roll, blood splatters, exotic animals are sliced and speared. Many, many soldiers on either side die gruesomely. If on-screen death and war -- even one so stylized and cartoonish at times -- is too disturbing a subject matter for your kids (or you!), this bloodfest isn't a safe bet.
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What's the story?
Adapting Frank Miller's graphic novel 300, Snyder takes a hyperstylized visual approach to depicting the famed Battle of Thermopylae, where King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) and his 300 elite personal guards defied their Oracle and the odds to wage war against Xerxes' huge, unrelenting Persian army. Faced with the choice of submitting to Xerxes (Brazilian Lost regular Rodrigo Santoro, rendered nearly unrecognizable in earrings and eye makeup) or waging war, Leonidas makes the only choice a warrior-king can: fight. Leonidas and his personal detachment, led by his captain (fine character actor Vincent Regan) and Dilios (David Wenham), discover that although they're grossly outnumbered, they can funnel the enemy into the Hot Gates (the literal translation of "Thermopylae"), a narrow pass where the Spartans' special-forces skills will crush wave after wave of the Persians. And, oh, how they crush. It's impressive and disarming to see the 300 delight in the "glory" of warfare. The Spartans, so drunk on warlust that they dismember, skewer, decapitate, and spear the enemy -- whether it's human, animal, or something in between -- are brave, but also a bit mad. What the Spartans want (unlike the Arcadians, a group of fellow Greeks that joins them) is not to survive but to "die a beautiful death" in battle.
Is it any good?
At times engrossing and at times laughably over-the-top, 300 is entertaining as an extended war sequence. However, the film falls short of reaching the revolutionary Matrix-like status that the film's creators claim. The whole segment in Xerxes' lair, with its hedonistic sensuality, smacks of stereotypical Orientalism, not to mention some of the grossly depicted Persian soldiers and the disfigured hunchback who plays a central role.