Before that happens, however, the adrenaline-thirsty German director Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, Air Force One) and an army of Hollywood techno-folk provide just about everything an old-fashioned, grand-scale epic is supposed to have: The glory of love! The pity of war! A cast of thousands! Brat Pitt's pecs! Little matter that the guy who allegedly inspired the whole thing -- that old scribbler Homer -- would be hard-pressed to find any shred of The Iliad remaining in an over-the-top movie that could be subtitled My Big Fat Greek Bloodletting.
The less said here about local politics in the old days, the better -- about the beef Meneleus (Brendan Gleeson) has with his unfaithful beauty of a wife, Helen (Diane Kruger), or about the imperial ambitions of King Agamemnon (Brian Cox) as he stares across the Aegean. It wouldn't even do to talk much about the delicate Trojan prince Paris (Orlando Bloom) and his steamy fling with Helen. Suffice it to say that the incredibly buff Pitt, who portrays the fierce Greek warrior Achilles (you know, the guy with the heel) looks tough as nails in a black-leather miniskirt and sandals. And he's only slightly better sculpted than former Hulk Eric Bana, who essays the part of Hector, the Trojans' own top swordsman. Half-submerged in David Benioff's uneven script (some of the dialogue sounds like it was written by Homer Simpson) are cautions about the abuse of power and the dark lure of violence, but Troy's real obsession is flesh -- Pitt's leaping flesh, Bana's doomed flesh and the quivering flesh of three actresses so outlandishly gorgeous that you can't help wondering how to say supermodel in ancient Greek.
Troy's Achilles is no longer divine (at least he says he's not) but rather a trained killer with a hunger for immortality and a gift for bedding slave girls two at a time. In his first scene, he skewers a 9-foot-tall warrior. Ten minutes later he slashes his way through a hundred or so outclassed Trojans and, for good measure, decapitates a golden statue of Apollo. If you go in for idol-smashing, regicide and post-banquet debauchery, Pitt's your man.
Achilles' spiritual salvation comes via a beautiful Trojan priestess named Briseis (Rose Byrne), who eventually turns the great fighter into a lover. But first, Petersen provides the transcendent battle scenes every war epic requires. After the huge armada of Greek ships (all but three of them computer-generated images) lands at Troy, we get a pitched battle before the city gates while Helen and King Priam (grave, magisterial Peter O'Toole) look on from their skybox. Don Rumsfeld will love it. And there's the famously unhappy business in which the cowardly Paris shames himself in a one-on-one with the cuckolded Menelaus. What we're leading up to, of course, is the main event between Achilles and Hector, a bloody, percussive clangeroo that Don King would have been proud to book at Caesars.
In the end, the sometimes silly but satisfying Troy delivers on its promises. Classicists won't learn much about Greek culture -- or even pick up a decent recipe for moussaka -- but as all-out, big-budget action movies that are set 3,200 years in the past go, this one will do just fine -- especially if you like seeing hundreds of Bulgarian extras getting smashed in the face with bronze hammers. Somewhere (maybe in the tank where he dreamed up the Red Sea), Cecil B. DeMille must be grinning.