In the movie, Leonidas (Gerard Butler, worked into a muscled wall of man-flesh), the King of the Spartans is ready to meet the giant invading army in battle--but the mystics say no ... and Leonidas is bound by the law.
So he doesn't.
Or, well, you know? Pesky laws? We got lawyers. So he creates history's first police action sending 300 of the boys (and going himself--back then, men were real men) and taking a walk to the hot gates. There he engages with the slave-driving swarthy middle easterners (this would be the Iranians today ... not that it matters).
He's fighting for what? Why, for freedom. As his wife reminds us--and will remind the Senate, freedom isn't free! And what does Xerxes hate? Well, in order to be spared by him you just have to convert. Bow down. Why, he hates their freedoms! Tricksy freedoms!
But remember back home? Back home evil scheming senators and lack-luster weak old men don't want to support the troops. That's right--our red-blooded boys are out there dying for our freedoms and they won't get reinforcements (and maybe not paid ... but, hell, it's a suicide mission!).
This is clearly an analogy for the Vietnam War.
So, okay--maybe it's more timely than one might think for a history lesson. If we ignore the message I'm seein', how is it?
It rocks. It does "blade ballet" in a way that V for Vendetta's knife-time didn't. The figures move in slo-mo, cleave something, and then snap forward in a gory orgy of action and blood. It doesn't look real, but it's based on Frank Miller's comic book and, man, it looks like that.
The movie contains some of the greatest lines ever heard in a war movie (the "fight in the shade" line is one, Leonidas' response when another force's leader says he'd thought the Spartans would send at least as many warriors has he brought is another). Miller likes his men manly and, despite having made one of the most homoerotic movies ever shot, his Spartans are tough as nails consummate bad-asses.
The stunning visuals continue to Xerxe's army of freaks and mutants, Xerxe's palace, and the sweeping (if slightly surreal looking) landscapes. It's a big movie, if an entirely fabricated one (it was shot in Montreal against a blue-screen).
If I have any problems with it, it's with two specifics.
1. The Spartans talk like modern day westerners. Their blather about freedom is either disengenious or misleading. When a Spartan fights for "freedom" he fights for his own (they owned slaves)--not for the idea of freedom. Sparta is shown as being a pretty decent place when, really, the Spartans were assholes. Leonidas looks back at his wife before condemning his city to total war. He wants her support. I don't buy it.
True: the movie doesn't claim to be historical (and it's not)--but when it isn't, and the inserted westernization is that obvious, it's like a special effect where I can see the strings: it grates a little.
2. The story hinges on a character being told he cannot fight with the Spartans because he can't hold his shield properly in the formation. Well, yeah: they do fight in the phalanx--at first. Then they break the phalanx and go Gimli and Legolas-ing it around the battlefield killing Persian ninjas. That guy? Who couldn't fight in the phalanx? He coulda been stabbing someone then just fine. In the comic Leonidas was a dick. He made fun of his own men when they screwed up. The Spartans had no mercy for anyone, including their own.
In the movie version, the rationale doesn't hold up nearly as well.
Still: any movie where the blows cleave metal, flesh, and bone--where degenerate giants wade through the battle field--where the moving, slave-carried palace of Xerxes towers over the battle field carrying the god-king--that's a movie I want to see.
Note: Prepare for Glory is definitely a euphemism for prepare to be screwed. I once served under a lieutenant who wanted glory. I know.