There was a point where I became third-person aware of just how long I had been watching viscous battle on the same small plot of land, but at no point did I check out saying, "Alright, that's it, enough blood for me."
That sounds similar to the way I felt during the final battle in Zion in The Matrix Revolutions. At one point I suddenly became very aware I'd been watching things being shot and blown up for ten minutes. It wasn't exactly a feeling of being annoyed by how long it was going on (it was better than sitting through some of the more boring Zion scenes, and especially the rave!), but of wondering how long it was going to last before the film got back to some semblance of a plot. Strangely I didn't remember feeling this way before in other films that have extended battles in them, such as Zulu or in some of John Ford's films where during the action the individual stories continue or climax. It felt sometimes during the Matrix sequels that the plot stopped and the action sequence started, went on as long as it lasted (could be a minute, could be fifteen), then the action sequence stopped and we got scenes explaining just what the action sequence meant to the plot.
Is it because of a lack of characters the audience is caring for, a prior knowledge of how the situation will turn out that renders the action redundant and overblown in its spectacle or the stylisation that prevents or even encourages a lack of empathy?
I've got some sympathy with toiletduck's points about it not being explicitly linked to current events in Iraq too, although I think things are somewhat more complex than just being a debate between current world events having no
impact, and current events being all
a film is about. I think it is important to wonder about how a particular film, in such a difficult industry to get from initial idea to finished film in a process that can take many years, manages to get made and released and what messages in the film might have resonated to the filmmakers, the studios who financed it, the audience that it is targeted at etc. I think it is only natural that people relate a film released at a certain time to events going on in the world at the same time, and it is often those that seem to embody attitudes and events in a more metaphoric way, or say more than we might imagine the filmmakers had intended to say, that stick in peoples minds over films with a couple of references to Vietnam or with throwaway lines of dialogue like "those damn hippies having a love-in over at the Capital" that seem put there at the last minute by filmmakers or studios wanting to shoehorn a reference to current events into their movie to 'get in with the cool kids, daddy-o'!
And once an audience gets its hands on a film, or any piece of art, all sorts of personal connections can be made and that makes individual reactions to films so diverse and often very interesting to hear about (even if we've been joking about some posts on some message boards recently!)
But there is also the idea that 300 only came along through artistic evolution and the success of Sin City sparking interest in doing adaptations of Frank Miller's other works.
At the same time, there will always be films made that celebrate the bonding of men through violence, such as all the muscled action men during the 80s. There is also the idea of the Middle Eastern villain coming to prominence through those films as the 'Russian threat' fell off, such as the transition with Schwarzenegger from playing a 'good Russian' and helping an audience get used to having a Russian character as a hero in Red Heat (with that strange offhand remark early on from one of his Russian colleagues that he'd noticed Schwarzenegger was circumcised and that there was no need to worry, he was too, that simultaneously if crudely hits both its targets. It lets an American audience learn to think of a Russian as the goodie because, "hey, he's like us!", and it hits the 'guys comparing their 'guns' and killing people because they can't have sex with them' metaphor of the action genre!), to introducing Art Malik in True Lies that helped to usher in a new era of Middle Eastern terrorists in action films.
The 80s action man films, along with Mad Max and Lethal Weapon, could be seen both as an expression of Reagan-era individualism and
as just the next wave of action film to show guys beating each other to a pulp so the audience doesn't need to go out on the streets and do it (or, on the other hand, so they can get drunk and go out and practice the new fight moves on their friends!)