First, this is a story. So there are protagonists, and there are antagonists. Heroes and villains, more commonly. Let us start with the latter, as it is here where the imagery is the most overwhelming, when you take it in toto:
Politicians are evil. (Well, pretty forgivable, if pretty predictable theme. You couldn't show a double feature of movies where politicians are the heroes.)
Priests are evil. (Well, a little less common, but still pretty forgivable - if the movie were set in modern times! But when you factor in how wildly fanciful it is for the Spartan king to be talking like a combo of Voltaire, Martin Luther, and Karl Marx on how irrational and superstitious religion is, you see what a deliberate swipe this is at religion.)
Deformed people are evil. (This is just weirdness for visual effect. Forgivable in Disney animation for kids, as kids need visual cues for who are the bad guys, but it did seem pretty ridiculous here.)
Dark skinned people are evil. (That Persian empire, no matter how many times they keep reminding us that it's "All of Asia" has a hell of a lot of people in it who look African.) This one and the next are the ones that put it over the edge, I think, for sheer gratuitousness.
People of ambiguous gender and/or orientation are evil. I can't think what other message they're trying to send by casting Xerxes as 7-foot-tall, multiply-pierced man with glowing, smooth, clean shaven skin, and a resonating, throaty, female-impersonator voice, who keeps asking the Spartan king to kneel in front of him. I know, I know, I'm reading way too much into it. I do that so much.
Giant Jabba the Hutt / Lobster Men are evil. Um. Okay. I'm gonna have to give you this one.
Okay, maybe all those were accidents, or standard tropes, or just visual cues. So who are these "heroes"?
Pretty nice guys. They must be in the gym a lot. They don't like to wear shirts, even in the snow. Like red capes for some reason. They don't talk much. Mostly quip. Their roars are really cool, as are those of their non-human opponents. Oh, wait, I forgot: they're genetically selected, remorseless, raised-from-birth KILLING MACHINES. Yeah, I knew there was something I was forgetting. (Though, to be fair, compared to Miller's Sin City characters, these guys are pretty civilized. They don't torture or mutilate people, at least. Just decapitate them.)
"But come on, that's not their fault. That's how things were back then!" (you say)
Ok, then let's think about how things were back then, and how they weren't, and how warm and gaga we want to get over these buff dudes and their big, sharp swords. The king and queen must say "freedom" in every speech they give. The idea that ANYONE in the ancient world could mean "freedom" in the same way we mean it today is absurd. There was no sense of PERSONAL freedom in the ancient world, and on this the film is somewhat honest, in a brutal way: the first haunting and horrible shot of the film is of a mountain of Spartan babies' skulls, and it is a good encapsulation of what the 300 are fighting for. Their idea of "freedom" is the "freedom" for a mother to hand her child over to a city official for that child to be killed, if the city official deems it necessary. I'm willing to assume that what Xerxes had in mind for them was considerably worse, but let's not jump to the conclusion that these guys were "freedom fighters" in any way that we would recognize or approve.
"Oh, but come on, it looked SO COOL! Forget all this supposed political subtext!" (you say)
Did it? I must've missed that part. Even at six stories high, I have to admit to being unimpressed. I thought the alternation between slo-mo and real time was cool for about 5 minutes, like any new gimmick that's tried in filming action sequences. (Remember the Blind-Man-Cam from Daredevil? Looked pretty cool for the first fight, didn't it? For the rest of the movie - um, not so much. And really, the slow-fast-slow-fast effect here looked super hot in the oracle scene, which was early, so it was already getting threadbare by the time of the first battle.) The rhino, elephants, and grenades amounted to NOTHING. The guys in masks and the giant were probably the best fight, and even there, I thought the roaring was cooler than the actual clash - you got some sense of animal brutality, whereas the fight looked like a ballet with chocolate syrup flying across the screen. You know what I think has happened? LOTR set the bar so unbelievably high on pre-modern fight scenes, that if anyone ever tops it, you'll be able to tell they have when everyone in the theater is dead from heart failure.
So, Zack Snyder, I went out on a limb in my book, defending your Dawn of the Dead as an excellent zombie film, and dismissing the accusations that it was a reactionary, xenophobic fantasy. Several reviewers of my book even singled this out as a weakness of my analysis. And this is how you repay me?