Heading into The Legend of Hercules, I really only knew that it was directed by Renny Harlin and starred one of the kids from Twilight. I was secretly hoping for some bubble gum fun from the guy who made Deep Blue Sea, one of the best bubble gum flicks of all time. What I got was something more akin to Cutthroat Island.
The Legend of Hercules is the first really bad movie of 2014, and since it is only really the second really big movie released this year, that casts an ominous shadow over the rest of the year.
I do want to say upfront that the problems with this movie are not Kellen Lutz’s fault. The problems lie directly at the hands of Renny Harlin and his group of three fellow screenwriters. This is less a movie than a series of events, all laid out like precisely placed bullet points on a checklist, and then directed into one of the ugliest movies I have seen in a very long time.
If we start anywhere, let’s start off by looking at how this movie looks. The Legend of Hercules was made to be a giant 3D spectacle movie. Now, I love 3D in movies, more than a lot of critics who still want to pass it off as a fad that they wished would go away. With that said, Renny Harlin has no idea how to make a 3D movie.
We can start with the skyline shots. Of course, Hercules is the son of Zeus, so you will get a lot of shots of the sky since – you know – that is where Gods live. That provides a great chance for some breathtaking 3D shots. Nope. What we get here is – imagine this with me – the sky on one level, the moon on the second level and the stars on the third level. None of the three levels are blended together to make you feel like you are looking at a brilliant 3D picture. They are just layered and thrown up there and called 3D. It was horrible effects work.
Lets move to the romantic plot of Hercules and his loved one Hebe. There is a secret watering hole and waterfall where they like to swim around fully clothed and then kiss passionately. There also must be a lot of cottonwood trees there because the cottonwood flows freely around their faces as they look longingly into each others eyes. There is cheesy and there is Velveeta cheese. This is straight up Velveeta.
I will get back to the cheese in a minute.
My last problem is the way Renny Harlin shot this movie. Remember in Zack Snyder’s 300 when he would stop an action shot in a freeze frame and then slowly speed it back up into the big blows. It was awesome and original in 300. People started to get tired of it in Watchmen, although I thought it still worked great there. Renny Harlin uses that technique – I kid you not – in EVERY SINGLE FIGHT SCENE in this movie. He beats you over the head with it and apes Zack Snyder throughout the entire freaking movie.
There are some nice shots, like the opening fight scene where the camera flows through the air and into the castle walls. Those shots are long forgotten when you see two men fighting in front of an obvious green screen environment. Whoever rendered this movie should be kicked out of Hollywood on the spot. Nothing looked real and the CGI was the ugliest I have seen in almost any movie.
Let’s head back to the cheese.
The script has so many cheesy one-liners that it almost gets sickening by the end. Kellen Lutz does his best with his character, but he is held back by a script that tries to hard to sound like a swords and sandals movie. It almost sounds like the screenwriters were trying to write like a poor-man’s Shakespeare without realizing how bad it sounds when spoken aloud. Lutz did his best Thor impression, but comparing it to that movie shows how far this one is lacking.
I did find one interesting aspect of the story, and that is a comparison to Thor. Hercules is a good mix between Thor and Loki. He is the son who will never find his earthly father’s favor (much like Loki) but he remains noble and the strong one (like Thor). Meanwhile, his brother who will be king is very similar to Joaquin Phoenix’s character in Gladiator, a young would-be king who knows he is not the strong one and tries to get ahead by being devious. Nicely, he also maintains a strong pathos for being the one son that his mother never really loved as much as his brother (making him more like Loki in that sense, although it was Odin who did not love him as much in Thor). It was a nice dynamic.
The problem is that the dynamic between the brothers was just on the surface and never really delved into. Instead, the script gave us a series of moments that never connected together. It starts with Queen Alcmene letting Zeus impregnate her with Hercules, which enrages her husband – the conquering king. We flash ahead to see Hercules as a 20-year-old who likes Hebe, who will get offered in marriage to his brother. He is then shipped off to die, becomes a gladiator, comes back to conquer his earthly father and brother and win over his love’s hand.
It is just one thing happening after the other and you are invested in no one but Hercules and his military companion Sotiris, and are only interested in them at the minimum. One scene goes to the next without any explanation of how the characters got there. It was very bad screenwriting. Then you have a contrived happy ending that is completely out of place with what we learned about Hercules’ place in the world through exposition in the film. The filmmakers tacked on a horrible end to an ugly and choppy movie.
I’m not usually one to complain about the accuracy to the source material, but I do have to say that nothing in this movie has jack to do with the mythological character of Hercules. All that is here is that he is the Son of Zeus and his pops will give him powers when he needs it.
Not even Hercules swinging giant concrete blocks to kill people, or getting a sword filled with lightning by his dad Zeus so he can electrocute an entire army of people, or two Gladiator battles where he is able to just dominate his enemies saves the movie.
This movie should have been awesome B-grade bubble gum action fun. Instead, it was a complete failure and a guarantee that, later this year, we will be calling a Hercules movie by Brett Ratner the best Hercules movie of the year. Think about that.
Watch 300, Gladiator and Braveheart – the three movies that The Legend of Hercules unsuccessfully tries to copy. You aren’t missing anything here.