The Legend of Hercules wants desperately to be your friend. Here's why you can do better.
As we lamented in 2013, Hollywood has a nasty habit of allowing films of the same topic to be released in the same year. Last year, it was Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down, but the trend goes back to the 90's when Wyatt Earp and Tombstone competed for our movie dollars. Such decisions are the center of economic folly: although some manage to crawl above the muck, most of these joined-at-birth projects are shunned by audiences and instantly forgotten, condemned to live in the squander of the Blu-ray bargain bin, along with Armageddon/Deep Impact and others. In the Hercules Origin Story genre, we wouldn't be surprised if the inept The Legend of Hercules would be rejected by even those perennial bargain basement dwellers.
The divinely-inspired Hercules (Kellan Lutz) grows up without knowledge of his lineage, eventually being sold into slavery after his mortal father King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) sends a hit team to kill him while on a mission. Hercules's mother Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) doesn't trust Amphitryon or the brutal nature which he's used to secure and maintain power. To her, the guy rules with an iron fist, and she has utterly failed to grow the anger out of him. Condemned to a life of slavery, Hercules battles as a gladiatorial combatant with his captain Sotiris (Liam McIntyre) before somehow escaping and eventually leading an uprising against his father and wanna-be evil brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), who's swore to marry Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss) before her beau boyfriend Hercules can return.
In yet another origin story, Hercules is very loosely based on the Greek legend, barely utilizing any of the mythology or tragic overtones which made these tales so mesmerizing in our younger years. In its place are a collection of former models-turned-actors going through their lines with such difficulty that it's impossible to find them attractive or worthy of our attention. For Lutz, our realization is especially painful: sure, his chiseled physique provides nice images for the ladies, but he can barely be bothered by the script from Writer Daniel Giat and Director Renny Harlin, appearing mostly disinterested and unable to emote when he learns of his mother's death. Weiss and McKee pour on the tears when ordered, but they seem like Xeroxed copies of 300's Lena Heady without the badassery. The one exception is Spartacus lead McIntyre, whose quiet courage is the only light among the dearth of talent. As Hercules and Iphicles battle a horribly CGI-ed Nemean lion, we're led to believe this might meld into "Twelve Labors of Hercules," which delved into twelve quests our hero had to complete to become a great leader. Such a move would have at least provided some sizzle and sense that this production would be something more than a simple journey of revenge. Instead, our plastic figurine actors muddle through the script, surrounded by some of the worst CGI in recent memory.
Renny Harlin's filmography reads like its own Greek tragedy, including Cutthroat Island, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and Die Hard 2. In the latter, he at least crafted his own super-violent take on John McClane, emphasizing bloodbath over story with questionable results. In Hercules, he's content to simply steal scenes like the arena fighting of Gladiator without making it interesting or even wondrous. Hamlin evokes his best adaptation of Zack Snyder's love for "Speed Ramming," where an action sequence is slowed down then immediately sped up. Think Snyder's masterpiece amped up to one of these every 5 minutes - sadly, his effort is excessive, to the point that any effort to build dramatics is lost. There's also maddening technical errors here, from highly suspect CGI, painfully obvious green screens, and ADR (additional dialogue recording) that's so bad in parts that it sounds like someone replaced Lutz's voice with another actor ala Max Max. Hercules also offers yet another example of why post-production 3D doesn't work - the whizzing of arrows and falling raindrops don't help to add any splendor to this world which is uninspired and copied from a dozen sword and sandal epics from the past two decades.
The Legend of Hercules is largely inept, frightfully boring, and wants desperately to be taken seriously. It fails in nearly every way possible, from the uneven CGI and the poorly-done ADR, to largely stiff performances by its leads. We didn't have much hope for it going in, but it's amazing how much of it left us in shock. Like the first person who arrives at a dinner party, it's usually the later guests who bring a deeper meaning to the evening - Hercules wants desperately to be your friend before the real people arrive. As the lights came up and the test audience emerged, we heard our concerns echoed in those who felt they had wasted their evening by giving it a chance. We couldn't agree more. The Legend of Hercules is rated PG-13 for sequences of intense combat action and violence, and for some sensuality.and has a runtime of 99 minutes.
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