The Legend of Hercules (**/****)
Starring: Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Gaia Weiss
Director: Renny Harlin
I admit, I’m almost embarrassed to be writing this. I still haven’t seen Gravity or 12 Years a Slave yet, for crying out loud. But I will always be a sucker for classical-mythology films, no matter the stupidity of their premise. It’s the equivalent of continuously touching a hot stove, but I can’t help it. I’ve been fixated with Greek myth for as long as I can remember, but unfortunately it’s a subject that’s spawned more misses than hits just over the past fifteen years alone. The overlong Troy, which was upstaged by Brad Pitt’s flowing locks. NBC’s Jason and the Argonauts miniseries (2000). The two Percy Jackson movies. Clash/Wrath of the Titans. Last and certainly least, Tarsem Singh’s excruciating Immortals (2011). In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1997 to find what is possibly the last great venture into the genre: the two-part miniseries adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey.
None of the myths featured in these productions, however, have been explored – or completely beaten to death, if you will – as much as good old Hercules, centerpiece of all those notoriously awful ’50s-60s B-movies, the Disney animated feature, and, of course, the infamous Kevin Sorbo TV series. The latest to step to the plate is Renny Harlin’s $70-million The Legend of Hercules, incredibly one of two movies this year focused on the big lug (the second, with Dwayne Johnson, is due out in July). It stars Twilight hunk Kellan Lutz, who seemingly couldn’t get enough of the swords-and-sandals set either even after having made a complete ass of himself as one of Singh’s art-deco Twelve Olympians.
The Legend of Hercules actually isn’t half bad. It’s just boring, unmemorable January fodder, passionless as it is bloodless, loud orator-like speeches from various characters notwithstanding. I consider this a compliment; better tedium than B-movie cheese. The bar wasn’t exactly high to begin with, though, because no movie about Hercules is ever going to be confused for a cerebral exercise. The script (credited to four writers, including Harlin) is peppered with drawn-out battle scenes that exist to pad the running time and are replete with a ridiculous overuse of hey-look-at-me slow motion, while the expected glut of hamfisted acting is a given.
One has to wonder why Hercules is even included in the title at all, because save for the tale of his conception – Herc is actually a demigod, as his old man is none other than Zeus – the film makes zero reference to the original myths aside from his brief tussle with a badly-animated CGI take on the Nemean Lion that’s roughly the size of a Smart car. While it does aid in kickstarting the storyline, Harlin clumsily handles this process with overlong ye olde time-period dialogue exchanges that go in one ear and out the other before Herc is finally exiled from his homeland by his stepfather, the evil King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins, maniacally chomping the scenery), and sold into slavery. The only way he can earn his freedom is by becoming…a gladiator, fighting his way back home. (What, you were expecting a Jeopardy tournament?)
Hercules’ brother, Iphicles (TV actor Liam Galligan), who hardly features in the myths either, has an expanded role here by having as much a nasty streak as Amphitryon that stems from inhibiting a lifelong jealousy of our hero, an issue compounded when Herc has his eyes set on marrying young Princess Hebe (the aptly-named Gaia Weiss). Galligan is unfortunately dumbed down visually with a dowdy haircut that makes him look like Steve Carell at a toga party, lest he steal any thunder from Lutz’s buff, blond-coiffed eye candy. I once counted 89 close-ups of the gold band in The Fellowship of the Ring. That’s about the same number of times either Lutz goes shirtless or the camera is right in his face. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing, I have no shame in admitting.