Let's give Frank Miller his due: he's the cartoonist who tamed Hollywood. While the work of revered writers like Alan Moore is routinely shredded on film, Miller's high-contrast style arrives almost untouched, first in Sin City and now in 300, a bloody, hugely entertaining take on the Battle of Thermopylae. This is the story of 300 Spartans, led by Gerard Butler's King Leonidas, who took on a million invading Persians with nothing more than spears, shields and excellent muscle tone.
It's refreshing, having sat through innumerable movies about the horrors of conflict, to find one that genuinely thinks war is ace. In the hands of director Zack Snyder (Dawn Of The Dead), 300 is a hurricane blast of epic energy - two solid hours of big, beefy men stabbing each other and yelling "RAAAAARGH!" as loud as they can. It's a film written entirely in capital letters, shot with a visual flair that rivals Zhang Yimou in a palette so stylised that it might as well be animation. Like Sin City, 300 is all about the look - and like Sin City, it has the moral sophistication of a lynch mob. The glorificaton of the body, the dehumanised enemy, the sheer relentless carnage presented as poetry and ballet - 300 is almost fascistic in its devotion to war and heroism.
300 is a valentine to violence, hilariously macho and eye-poppingly homo-erotic. It's also the best thing that Gerard Butler has ever done. Resplendent in his scarlet robe and sixpack, sporting a beard like a furry popcorn tub, Butler's warrior king brings both a sense of humour and a brooding intelligence to the slaughter. He's well supported by Lena Headey as his queen, who is thanklessly stuck at home to fend off Dominic West's slime-coated politician.
"A VALENTINE TO VIOLENCE"
300 is not a complicated film. It's going to be widely ridiculed and rightly so, because viewed with the slightest critical distance it becomes extremely funny, but taken on it's own terms - as Greek myth meets Looney Tunes - it's kind of a masterpiece.
300 is released in UK cinemas on Friday 23rd March 2007.