The Legend of Hercules is Epic... Epically Bad
- Susan Ellingburg Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2014 10 Jan
DVD Release Date: April 29, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: January 10, 2014
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of intense combat action and violence and for some sensuality)
Genre: Action, Adventure
Run Time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Director: Renny Harlin
Cast: Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Roxanne McKee, Scott Adkins, Liam McIntyre, Liam Garrigan, Johnathon Schaech, Rade Serbedzija, Luke Newberry, Kenneth Cranham
In ancient times in a war-torn land a woman gave birth to a son whose father was a god... the child who would bring peace to all. Nope, not Jesus—not by a long shot. This "chosen one" is the mythical story of Hercules, son of Zeus.
As stories go, there's not a lot to The Legend of Hercules. Hercules's mom Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) is fed up with her atheist husband's violent, greedy ways so she prays to goddess Hera to do something about it. The solution offered by Hera (via a possessed priestess) is adultery. Specifically, adultery with Zeus so Alcmene can bear him a son who will stop the madness. This might have worked better had the actual deed not been so, um, boisterous that Alcmene's husband King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) could hear his wife cheating on him.
Naturally Hercules (Kellan Lutz, Twilight: Breaking Dawn - Part 1) grows up to look like, well, a Greek god. He has a smaller, swarthier brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) who's jealous of his nobler sibling (can anyone say "Thor"?). In fact, Hercules often comes off as a Thor wannabe who lacks the spark—and the smarts—of his Norse counterpart. But I digress: Hercules also has a girlfriend, the beautiful Cretan princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss) who is—oops!—promised to Iphicles as part of a treaty. Betrayal, hardship, death, and retribution follow.
It is a beautifully-choreographed spectacle. Thousands of spear-carrying soldiers march and fight. And fight. And fight some more. This is interrupted briefly by some one-on-one, two-on-two, and one-on-six fighting. Then there's a little dialogue and a brief romantic moment or two... but don't worry, we'll be back to the fighting as fast as you can say "son of Zeus."
The fighting (did I mention there was fighting?) is sometimes mildly impressive. I particularly liked when armies moved as one, molding themselves into a shield-covered machine that explodes on command into a volley of perfectly-placed arrows. The hand-to-hand combat is equally engaging, although the stop action and super slo-mo effects that were cool the first time around got downright silly as they came back and back and back. Moderation is clearly not one of director Renny Harlin's strengths.
There are plenty of nods to other (better) films to keep audiences entertained. The rowing scene is straight out Ben Hur; Hercules and Hebe's dripping embrace in a pond looked like a photo shoot for Blue Lagoon. There are arena scenes designed to remind us of Gladiator, a Samson-esque moment with our hero chained between two pillars, and when Hercules came charging through the castle gates determined to stop the wedding of his true love to another I fully expected to hear Iphicles demanding that the priest "say 'man and wife'!" a la The Princess Bride.
If only it had been that clever. Alas, this script-by-committee (there are four listed writers, including Harlin) doesn't even resemble the ancient action-packed myth. Most of the story was on a par with the truly awful fake lion our hero slew early in the film—the only one of the traditional "labors of Hercules" to make the cut.
If I haven't mentioned the acting it's because it was generally forgettable. Roxanne McKee was the most lifelike character in the group, but it didn't take much to rise above this crowd. The cast came with a smorgasbord of accents, which was occasionally distracting and sometimes unintentionally funny. The king was apparently an Irish mobster; the prince's tutor was a Jewish sage; villagers hailed from various parts of England and the U.S.
"Wow," my companion said as the credits rolled. "That was even worse than I expected." That's what you get for having expectations. Leave them at the door for this one.
- Drugs/Alcohol: There may have been a flagon of wine somewhere, but it wasn't an issue.
- Language/Profanity: One d-word.
- Sex/Nudity: Those ancient army uniforms were a bit on the scanty side, what with those short skirts and all, but nothing untoward is shown. Hercules is bare-chested the majority of the film, as are other less robust male characters. Hebe's costumes are a bit transparent. Queen Alcmene is shown having intercourse with the (thankfully) invisible Zeus; she’s under covers the whole time. Another couple is shown embracing in a bed in a state of mild undress; the implication is obvious. Several lingering close ups of kissing. Two women agree to overlook adultery "for the sake of peace." There’s a discussion among men about a woman's "maidenhood."
- Violent/Frightening/Intense: As noted above, most of the movie is one vicious fight after another. Many die, often by impaling, but most are relatively blood-free, quick deaths. There’s none of the slow-motion, close up, blood and guts imagery other films use for shock value. Characters are often in life-threatening danger but the film is generally too silly for it to be taken seriously.
- Spiritual Themes: The film attempts to draw several parallels between Hercules and Jesus, whether by design or not is hard to tell. In either case, it doesn't work. The king is an avowed atheist; his queen prays to idols. Her answer comes via a priestess who is possessed by a goddess; she is later impregnated by the god Zeus. Hercules does not believe but later professes faith in Zeus and is given power from on high as a result.
Publication date: January 10, 2014