The story is based on the 480B BC invasion of Greece by Persian Emperor Xerxes. Spartan King Leonidas is forbidden by custom and law to raise an army, so he takes 300 "personal bodyguards" into battle to delay the vast invading force.
When a graphic novel is being adapted for the screen, one always hopes that the director is someone who understands the medium. In the past, Hollywood has demonstrated an inability to do this (Batman, Judge Dredd, Tank Girl etc). However, in Director Zack Snyder, we have a director who clearly demonstrated a passion for Frank Miller's work, bringing his images (and words) vividly to life. Never before has a film SO looked like it's source material (in fact, in the Q&A after Snyder said that his original pitch to Warners was simply to hand them the graphic novel and say "it's going to look like that"). It does.
While the story is not as rich as Miller's previous work "Sin City", the depth and texture is provided simply by the film being a historical epic (if very loosely based on fact). Epic is certainly an appropriate word too. The vast scale of Xerxes army is awe-insipring, the battles literally breath-taking - but also the characters are well crafted. Snyder happily described the film as "camp", which was perfectly demonstrated in a scene where, after a particularly brutal battle, King Leonidas munches an apple while stepping over a mound of dead Persians - in a scene storyboarded and lifted word-for word from Miller's novel.
With the exception of one single exterior in a cornfield, the film was shot entirely in a blue-screen studio in Canada. Apart from costumes and props, everything else was created by an army of visual-effects artists perfectly capturing Frank Miller's signature style. Even the (much spilled) "digital" blood was scanned from the novel according to Snyder. This gave the "Dawn of the Dead" Director unparalleled creative freedom to create huge vistas, marauding armys and mind-blowing battle scenes. Quite how it got an "15" rating I have no idea. Snyder assumed it's because it's "fantasy violence".
You would be forgiven for imagining that the actor's performances would be lost in all of this CGI trickery and digital blood-letting, but no, Gerald Butler acquits himself well as a Leonidas performed with Brian Blessed-like gusto, Lena Headey gives an entrancing and strong performance (considering her character is less well defined in the novel) and "The Wire's" Dominic West steals every scene he's in. A solid supporting cast of Brits perform and swing their swords with distinction.
Also of note is composer Tyler Bates' score, which combines choral work and driving heavy metal. It shouldn't work, but it does. And, make sure you stay behind for the amazing blood-spattered end credits - a beautiful piece of design.
If you liked "Gladiator" and "Sin City" you'll love this movie. If you want to see a seminal step in the evolution of cinema, you'll love this movie. If you like your historical epics to be historically accurate, then bite your tongue and enjoy a film that reminded me why seeing a great movie on the big screen is such an awesome experience. Boy, I can't wait to see this on IMAX.
PS Snyder told us he's working on Watchmen at the moment. After seeing "300" Fanboys should feel in it's in safe hands.