A ‘legend’ that was sneezed onto an ancient Post-It note, apparently…
What is it with America’s inability to produce decent films about ancient Europe? How hard is it to adapt a well-worn myth about finely cut men that wear stupid outfits and fight CGI monsters? Oh wait – that’s the exact formula for everyone’s favourite overused subgenre, the superhero movie, isn’t it? So what makes the change of scenery from any-given US city to the majestic planes of Ancient Greece or Rome result in such a blank? Not enough grey, one assumes.
Not since Gladiator, released WAY back in the year 2000 (a more innocent time…) has there been a well executed stab at the swords’n’sandals genre. Troy, Kingdom Of Heaven, Immortals, the Titans reboot, all stale, lifeless affairs. And the less said about Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii, the better. Even 300, with its overdone spectacle and titterworthy dick-waving, amounts to little more than a guilty pleasure for most audiences.
Alas, Renny Harlin’s The Legend Of Hercules doesn’t even manage to reach 300‘s overwrought silliness. Taking the heroic adventures of Grecian Superman Hercules as its template, the ditchwater story follows the modest origins of Hercules, aka Alcides (pre-Hydra and all that other interesting stuff), falling victim to his scheming stepfather and -brother who hate him because, well, they’re the baddies. Ousted from his kingdom and believed to be dead, Hercules makes his way back with the help of a generic soldier, to reunite with his lady-love and defeat the bad men.
It’s all very Gladiator, minus any of the good stuff. Hercules is less an epic tale of revenge, and more like a halfassed screen test for a new Argos-set soap opera (very fitting – that’s former Hollyoaks babe Roxanne McKee as Herc’s mum). You can tell the quality is at a slightly lower ebb when the parents look the same age as the supposed teenagers, or when the editing makes it seem like a full day only last ten hours max. To give soap-operas there credit, though, at least you’re invited to care about the characters – hard to do so here, when everyone speaks only in plot points and ponderous accents.
It’s a real shame, too, because Harlin does have credentials; he directed such mindless joys as Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and Samuel L. Jackson vs. sharks B-classic The Deep Blue Sea. Hercules certainly follows in those previous flick’s approach to threadbare characters, but with none of the irreverent charm to back it up. Hercules takes itself VERY serious, at the detriment to all. The insipid attempt at ‘epic’ cinema drowns itself in only-for-3D camerawork and terrible greenscreen effects. There is plenty of unnecessary slow-mo ala 300, only this time without any of the operatic execution that Snyder boasts. Par for the course these days, unfortunately. (I would allow the film these flaws if it was produced on a low-budget, but, nope – Hercules’ estimated budget totals at $70 million, in contrast to 300‘s $65 million)
But least excusable of all, there is a complete lack of any interesting action beats. Herc strangles his lion 20 minutes in, only to do battle with a repetitive batch of slave fighters in makeshift gladiator arenas on his way back to Argos (gee, THAT SOUNDS FAMILIAR). He finally whips out a pair of lightning-infused chains, courtesy of daddy-Zeus, in a climactic set-piece which lasts a good, ooh, 30 seconds. If that was meant to be the ‘realistic’ version, give me a satyr voiced by Danny DeVito anyday.
There are a few unintentional laughs to be had – thunderbolt sex, waterfall diving, everytime Scott Adkins yells like a howler monkey – but they are stretched far too thin across its too-long 99 minutes. And then there is Kellan Lutz. Oh, Kellan Lutz. With his highlighted locks, shit-eating grin and orange sheen that makes it look like he fell asleep on the tanning bed, Lutz truly embodies our generation’s ideal of a demigod superstar. And he’s terrible. It almost makes you pine for Lou Ferrigno and that ridiculous pornstache of his.
THE SHORT VERSION
Just awful. Not even worth it for post-booze up giggles.