300 Little known fact: Spartans invented the Sonicare toothbrush!

God, 300 is dumb. I don't mean that as a pejorative, just as an observation: If movies were schoolchildren, 300 would be the one in the back of the room, several years too old and wearing a dunce cap, drawing bad pictures of explosions, and occasionally getting caught masturbating. This doesn't mean that 300 is any less fun to hang out with—shit, he's probably way more fun to kick it with than those suck-ups taking notes in the front row—but still. He's just... dumb, is all. Really, really dumb.

300—based on Frank Miller's graphic novel, and directed by Zack Snyder, whose previous credits include 2004's remade Dawn of the Dead and a Morrissey music video—is about the Battle of Thermopylae, c. 480 BC, in which a bunch of Greeks, led by Spartan warriors, fought off invading Persians. Using geography, brains, and no shortage of brutality, the Spartans held off the Persians for days, despite being ridiculously outnumbered. The Battle of Thermopylae makes for one hell of a story, if it's told right. And if it's told wrong... well, it's still a hell of a story. Just one that's not nearly as awesome as it should be.

300 follows Sparta's King Leonidas (played by a charismatic and mightily bearded Gerard Butler), whose idea of diplomacy is kicking a Persian ambassador into a bottomless pit within the film's first five minutes. (Yeah! Take THAT, Persian!) Knowing the Persians are about to invade Sparta (which, tellingly, is apparently filled with naught but amber waves of grain), Leonidas decides to head them off with a band of 300 Spartans (the deadliest warriors on Earth—and ones who clearly spend a good portion of each day oiling down their pecs and abs). Thus the setup is had: Leonidas and his crew embed themselves in a narrow valley, forcing the Persians into a bottleneck; cue roughly two hours of punching, kicking, stabbing, dismembering, decapitating, etc.

As a balls-out action movie, 300 hits some moments that're fucking awesome. Watching the Spartans barrel headlong into battle is nothing short of exhilarating, and entropy always prevails, devolving everything into splashes of blood and slow-mo studies of heads and limbs artfully floating through the air. Perhaps best of all, Tyler Bates' hammy score occasionally veers into heavy metal territory, at which point 300 embraces its identity as an extended '80s music video, complete with enough sword and sorcery goofiness to fill a Dungeon Master's Guide. (Yes, there are monsters, bafflingly inexplicable though they may be. The eeeevil Persians are first portrayed as being black, then Indian, then as... uh... vampiric ninjas, 'roided-up trolls, and various other freaks, including a hunchback who looks and acts exactly like Sloth from The Goonies. Usually these parts are great, but sometimes they're lame—like the orgy scene featuring said freaks? LEAST SEXY ORGY EVER.)

But for a film that should be more concerned with histrionics than history, it's bewildering why 300 is so... well, boring. While the film focuses on the Spartans' battles, it also annoyingly cuts back to Leonidas' wife, the unfortunately named Gorgo (Lena Headey), who pines and whines about how noble her husband is. Sure, Headey contributes a minute drop of estrogen to 300's tidal wave of testosterone, but still: BORING. And disappointingly, most of 300's battles blend together; while the loud bombast never relents, it's all too similar to be that interesting. Sure, it's rad when the Spartans build a huge wall of dead Persians, then push it over onto some poor bastard. (Ha! Take THAT too, Persian!) And it's pretty sweet when the Persians sic a pissed-off rhino on the Spartans. But 300 never stops shouting, never stops stupidly flailing and bludgeoning. Occasionally, some of Miller's striking imagery will sneak through, Leonidas will dash off a great one-liner, or the confused Snyder will find a killer camera angle—in bursts, 300 covers the screen in arterial spray, and feels sharp and vivid and fun. But those moments are far too few, especially for a story that's as loaded with potential as this one.