The Legend of Hercules (2014) / Action-Fantasy

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some sensuality
Running Time: 99 min.

Cast: Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan, Liam McIntire, Rade Serbedzija, Johnathon Schaech, Luke Newberry
Director: Renny Harlin
Screenplay: Daniel Giat, Renny Harlin, Sean Hood, Giulio Steve

Review published January 11, 2014

USDA statistics reveal that modern Greece has the largest per-capita consumption of cheese in the world, but if The Legend of Hercules is any indication, they don't hold a candle to the amount of 'cheese' emanating from the tales of Ancient Greece.

As someone versed in classical mythology (I have a degree in Classical Civilization, in fact), I knew I would be in poor hands when the main character has the romanized name of "Hercules", while everyone else retained the name of their Greek counterparts.  Would audiences really reject a film because he is called "Herakles" instead?  If so, change the name immediately, because anything one can do to keep people from seeing this fiasco can only be viewed as a good thing.

January is the month that studios traditionally dump their duds, and with a higher-profile Brett Ratner-helmed Hercules film coming out later in 2014 featuring The Rock, along with a visually similar 300: Rise of an Empire, the choice was made to try to recoup whatever money they could through squeaking out a wide release smack dab in the middle of the cold season when it will only have the highbrow Oscar-caliber films as its competition.

With this in mind, I could forgive the problem with his misnomer (after all, every other major Hercules film commits the same error), and I can overlook the fact that just about every other event that happens in this film bears only a tangential relationship to the mythology of Hercules.  Most of the set design and costumes look like they come out of some hack-and-slash video game than historical Greece, while elements of the plot are cribbed from Gladiator, while action sequences resemble the grimace-tinged, slo-mo barbarism of 300 (sans the blood and gore), especially in its persistent use of green screen technology for many of the backdrop.  The best I could hope for is to have a reasonably fun experience watching a dumb-fun adventure.

Unfortunately, 'dumb' is the only part of this equation that comes to be. In this insipid treatment, Hercules (Lutz, Immortals) is the son of Zeus and a mortal queen named Alcmene (McKee, Wrong Turn 5), a woman betrothed to a viciously iron-fisted madman named King Amphitryon (Adkins, Zero Dark Thirty).  The young man grows up in the shadow of his older half-brother Iphicles (Garrigan, "Strike Back"), whose jealousy has him conspire of a way to have Hercules sold into slavery when he catches the eye of lovely Hebe (Weiss, Mary Queen of Scots), the woman Iphicles promised to marry.  Hercules proves himself to be a mighty warrior in the gladiatorial arena games, and soon he endeavors to get revenge on his stepfather and stepbrother for past and current transgressions.

The film is released into theaters in both 2D and 3D versions (3D is only great if you think the perpetual scenes featuring floaty white things of unknown origin snowing down in the background make narrative sense), but whichever version you choose, you won't escape the one-dimensionality of the comic-book thin characterizations and dialogue (if you think the romantic interplay between Anakin and Padme in Attack of the Clones is wince-inducing, it's Shakespeare compared to the love-expressions between Hercules and Hebe here).  Not that many of the main actors could have brought the film to life, as Lutz, who looks like the poor-man's Chris Hemsworth, and the rest are purely cast for their physiques rather than their thespian prowess, or even based on the logic of the story.  For instance, 33-year-old Roxanne McKee plays the mother of the characters played by 32-year-old Garrigan and 28-year-old Lutz; no amount of makeup can mask the fact that she looks like a woman still in the prime of her youth.

But why not give us some eye candy, when there's so little else appealing to look at.  The CGI in this film is atrocious, looking no better than your average flick produced for the Syfy network.  I'd be surprised to learn that the crew that worked on these effects weren't under severe time constraints, as the jerkiness of the ocean scenes and the lack of realism in the creature work (the Nemean Lion is so fake-looking, they might as well have used Tony the Tiger) constantly take you out of the film in order to contemplate just how awful the production values truly are for a film given a major release nationwide.  That the reported production budget for this film is $70 million when it contains special effects this shoddy, Eastern European locales for tax breaks, and which casts no bankable stars, is absolutely insane to ponder.

Back in the early 1990s, director Renny Harlin had been an action director worth noting, leading thw ay to box office success with Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger and The Long Kiss Goodnight.  1999's Deep Blue Sea saw him jump the proverbial shark (literally), and he has never recovered to make anything worthwhile since.  His editing in this film is an abomination.  One scene has the Greek fighters employ the phalanx formation, completely blocking themselves with their large shields from a flurry of arrows coming their way.  In one shot, we see all of these shields pierced by arrows that remain stuck on impact, only for the men to emerge with no trace of the arrows still on their exterior -- not even any holes!  The same thing happens when Hercules takes a couple of arrows to his body that somehow disappear in the next shot, showing some amazing powers of absorption by the demigod.  Did Harlin bother to look his film after shooting, or was it hurriedly slapped together by some studio hack in a mad rush to get this to theaters? 

Other than for movie masochists who thoroughly enjoy kicking back and making fun of the stinkiest of cinematic stinkers, I'm at a loss as to who to recommend the The Legend of Hercules to, save perhaps those who just mean to admire the sculptured bodies of stars Kellan Lutz and Scott Adkins.  Not even the most arduous of the 12 Labors undertaken by the mythological Hercules can compare to what you'll suffer through should you choose to sit through 90+ minutes of this travesty.

Qwipster's rating

2014 Vince Leo