The Legend of Hercules
Directed by Renny Harlin. Starring Kellan Lutz, Richard Reid, Roxanne McKee, Scott Adkins, Liam McIntyre, Johnathon Schaech, Rade Šerbedžija, Kenneth Cranham, Luke Newberry, Bashar Rahal, Sarai Givaty, Jukka Hilden, Gaia Weiss, Liam Garrigan. Written by Renny Harlin, Daniel Giat, Sean Hood, Giulio Steve.
Note: Hercules is screening in both 2D and 3D versions (both in English with Czech subtitles) in Prague; below review refers to the 2D version of the film.
Coherent and competently directed, Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules is somewhat better than its shining 3% score on the Tomatometer might indicate. But that’s not exactly a glowing recommendation: this is still an especially dumb, dull, and cheap-looking take on the Greek legend, and it’s not quite bad enough to be any fun in the bad movie sense, either.
The Legend of Hercules doesn’t give us much of a legend, but instead presents an origin story: it begins with what feels like half an hour of backstory as brutal King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) conquers a neighboring kingdom against the better judgment of his wife, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), who only wishes for peace throughout the lands.
Alcmene prays for the Gods to intervene, and Hera (portrayed in the film as some random old woman) proclaims that the Queen shall bear the son of Zeus, who is destined to answer her prayers. In one of the film’s most amusing sequences, the Queen is seen writhing under the sheets – presumably in the throes of passion with a ghost-like Zeus – when Amphitryon barges in on her and demands to know just what the eff is going on.
Flash-forward two decades and Hercules (known as Alcides, the name the King bestowed upon him) is now a grown man played beefcake Kellan Lutz, best known for the Twilight series. Lutz looks the part but is completely devoid of any charisma, even the goofy charm that Steve Reeves or Lou Ferrigno brought to the role; Kevin Sorbo remains this generation’s most notable Hercules.
Alcides is in love with Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss), but the King arranges a marriage between her and Alcides’ snotty brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) and banishes Hercules to fight in Egypt. He’s soon captured along with general Sotins (Liam McIntyre, who actually has the kind of charisma Lutz fails to provide); they’re sold into Gladiator-like slavery, and Hercules is gonna have to fight his way out to make things right and reclaim his love.
Now, I’m no student of Greek mythology, but I have seen a Hercules movie or three. While this film features some recognizable names, the storyline is all new. New to the Hercules pantheon, in any event; this kind of simplistic B-movie plotting, while completely watchable, has been done to death.
It’s pretty much a cheap Gladiator imitation by way of 300 stylistics, which is a real shame considering the wealth of rich Hercules material just sitting there, ripe for the picking. All those classic Hercules adventures, all public domain material, but no: here’s mind-numbing formula that took four credited writers (Harlin, Sean Hood, Daniel Giat, and Giulio Steve) to come up with.
Saving grace: competence. In the directorial realm, at least. The Legend of Hercules moves at a reasonably fast pace, and joy of joys, we can actually understand what is going on during the action scenes: Harlin has a good feel for his characters and their surroundings, and doesn’t just toss them in a blender. I must say, however, that by the 26th freeze-frame shot of Hercules leaping in the air, about to strike his opponent, I had enough of that particular technique.
If it were more action-oriented, The Legend of Hercules might have provided some cheap thrills; surprisingly, action scenes are rather infrequent and quickly over. I guess it’s not all that surprising: ignoring all the great mythological monsters Hercules battled, this film has him fighting… hordes of ordinary soldiers. C’mon, he’s a demigod: at one point, Hercules is waving around a lightning bolt to wipe out an entire army. Where’s the challenge in that?
Harlin was once an accomplished action director (he made Die Hard 2 and Cliffhanger) but his career never recovered after the debacle of Cutthroat Island. He’s made numerous films over the past decade, but few have seen a wide release (last year’s The Dyatlov Pass Incident was a new low). The Legend of Hercules is his biggest film since 2001’s Driven; suffice it to say it won’t revive his career. Still, I’d love to see him tackle one of these Stallone/Arnold comeback projects.