This white man's burden is the idea of his own greatness. Like Troy
before it, the obsession of Oliver Stone's Alexander (Colin Farrell) is the creation of his own myth. Bypassing the majority of the youthful king's unification of the Mediterranean, Stone is more interested in Alexander's existential crisis as he and his weary army of loyal Macedonians march farther and farther East trying to forge and define a legend-in-progress.
Narrated "historically" by Alexander's fellow general-turned-historian Ptolemy (Anthony Hopkins), Alexander
spends much of its first hour touring frescos and wall-paintings depicting the trials and tribulations of heroes in the Greek myths. Ostensibly the director is drawing a parallel from these two dimensional, public, simplified, myth-making tableaus with the projection of the film on the wall of the cinema. But even Stone's idea of chronicling a faux-historical journey of a great man’s army as if it were a self-conscious media machine from 2500 years ago fails to explain the constant ellipses Alexander
uses, jumping from the warrior's teenage tiff with his father Philip (Val Kilmer) to Hopkins proclaiming only through narration that Alexander soon after ascended to the throne subsequently conquered much of Europe.
The elision is a hard swallow in contrast to the first and principle battle of the film, which is carefully setup as a straight tactical reenactment. Stone takes his time detailing Alexander's risky strategy, subtitling specific army positions and literally giving a bird's eye view of the phalanxes and cavalry maneuvers, but then inexplicably leaps over the battle's dramatic conclusion--Alexander apparently losing his gambit but the next sequence showing him entering Babylon in triumph. Much of Alexander
’s three-hour running time follows this mystifying technique of attempting broad extrapolation, turning it into extended visual self-gratification, and following it by chronological truncation. The drama of the film--existing mainly in Alexander's vaguely defined motivation for dragging his countrymen into the Eastern hinterland, and his laughable pseudo-Freudian conflict with his "sorcerous" mother Olympias (Angelina Jolie) who attempts to mold him into a great homosexual king--is limpid, generalized, straightforwardly melodramatic, and constantly fails at elucidating the film's characters, story, or historical interpretation. Alexander's unexplained motivation to reform the “barbarous”, and “racially impure” East into the civilized, cultured, united model of the white West likewise fails both to explore this fascinating ideology of Greek city-state building and to connect Alexander's military mission with the America's current political situation.
That a nearly three-hour movie never makes clear what it really is about is shameful, and as Stone leaps and glosses over history, action, characters, and a story all at once, one wants to picture a film that has been homogenized and butchered by its own grandiose production scale rather than the bewildering mess of a director's vision. One searches furtively for some sort of subversive content from Stone, and the end of the hunt produces only one possible answer: that the expositionally glossed over, dramatically immature, historically didactic film is really Stone showing how presumptive both the public and historians are when looking at fragmented historical records and artistically depicted myths. In its grand, inexplicable failure, perhaps Stone’s film is an attempt to show that the archetypal stories created on those walls in Greece are just as vapid, melodramatic, simplified, and pandering to mass tastes as a mediocre, overripe spectacle of ineptitude like Alexander