It’s been eight years since the release of Zach Snyder’s beefcake epic 300 put movie buffs on notice that the future of action cinematography was endless slow-motion, excruciating speed ramping, and ever more phony-baloney green-screen tableaux. That might not seem like a long time, but in Hollywood terms it’s a freaking eon. It only took two more years than that before Sony kicked Sam Raimi to the curb and rebooted the Spider-Man series entirely with a younger, cuter director. So maybe Zack Snyder is lucky Warner Bros. greenlighted a straightforward sequel to 300 rather than handing a remake to Fede Alvarez or somebody.
When the original Watchmen comic-book series began publishing, with a cover date of September 1986, the Cold War was still reality. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, a battleground where it faced off against the U.S.-armed mujahideen, was still grinding on, and the threat of nuclear annihilation was nightmare material for anyone who lived near a big city in the U.S. The so-called “Doomsday Clock,” a symbolic creation of atomic scientists that attempted to quantify the likelihood of global nuclear war, was set at three minutes to midnight. I was a teenager in Pueblo, Colorado, living about 35 miles from the NORAD facility inside Cheyenne Mountain, where the military kept an eye out for a Soviet nuclear-missile attack. Movies like Dr. Strangelove and War Games, which had scenes set inside NORAD’s war room, had a special resonance on the Colorado’s Front Range. So did Watchmen.
300, the ancient-Greek military adventure adapted from the graphic novel by Frank Miller, is drenched in sex and violence and boasts a repetitive, forward-reeling momentum that makes it feel like the longest videogame cut scene in history. (I kept thinking the bald dude from God of War would totally kick the Spartans’ asses.) If it were only brutish spectacle, executed with the inescapable élan that Miller’s stark and exciting combinations of word and image always brings to the printed page, it could be an invigorating diversion from the more nuanced, and infinitely more taxing, struggles of the real world. But with its fetishistic depiction of the nearly naked male body as nothing more or less than a merciless instrument of warfare, it fills a much-needed gap between gay porn and recruitment film.
There are certain signals in a man’s life that remind him that he’s not getting any younger. In my case, I’ve started noticing that when I go to the multiplex on a Friday night, I’m just about the oldest guy in the lobby. Some of those fresh young starlets who regularly inspire impure thoughts are roughly half my age. The neighbor kids have started calling me “Mister.” And, just this weekend, I faced the fact that lumbering zombies are totally uncool. Rage zombies are in.
At 34, I feel so old.