After an eleventh-hour name change, the Millennium Films/Summit Entertainment project The Legend of Hercules is the first of two Hercules movies set to release this year (the other, simply titled Hercules, stars Dwayne Johnson as the titular demigod and is set to release July 25). If history is any indication, The Legend of Hercules made a smart move getting to theaters first. But as it turns out, that’s about all this movie has going for it. Beyond just being not good, The Legend of Hercules is exploitative in the worst degree, a repugnant attempt by the studios involved to fleece audiences of their money.
Where to start with this one? The story begins before Hercules’s birth with a Troy like battle scene as King Amphitryon of Tiryns makes war on Argos. Actually, it so blatantly wants to be troy, it even has a flashy one-on-one duel to decide the final outcome of the battle. It’s the first time The Legend of Hercules goes beyond stylistic homage and into blatant rip off of a better movie, but it won’t be the last. Before it’s done, it will have done the same to Gladiator, 300, and even to a certain extent Braveheart. But back to the story. Amphitryon’s queen, Alcmene, has become disillusioned with her husband’s warmongering, and prays to Hera for a champion to overthrow him. The wish is granted and Zeus comes to her in the night, but Amphitryon suspects something’s not right, and twenty years later Hercules is a young man, Amphitryon’s second (and unflavored son), and has no idea about his true parentage.
From this point, the story follows Hercules essentially being sent on a suicide mission to Egypt to get him out of the way as his brother is set to marry the woman Hercules loves for political reasons (and of course he’ll eventually need to come back from the “dead” to lead an insurrection and reclaim his paramour), but it doesn’t really matter. The plot is strung together like a series of cliff’s notes, offering little more than the most cursory motivation for the characters’ actions or rationale for how one event leads to another. Particularly through the first half of the movie, there were multiple scenes that purported to begin developing some of the characters, but instead cut to whatever’s next as soon as the minimum necessary dialogue for maintaining some kind of plot continuity was said. It’s not even that the movie feels rushed so much as the script feels incomplete. There’s no attention given to developing anything meaningful, either in the plot or in the characters. If there’s anything that can be said for the story, it’s that there does seem to be an attempt to position Hercules as an exceptional, but thoroughly human, character, but even this is undermined when he achieves his goals on a couple of key occasions (I don’t think that’s really a spoiler) through decidedly supernatural means.
With that out of the way, let’s move on to a few technical details. Much like the story, there is little evidence of anything which could be called a cohesive style. There’s one scene, for instance, in which the camera incessantly spins around Hercules and his companion for no apparent reason, but this technique is (thankfully) never repeated. The cinematography merely captures the events rather than infusing the proceedings with any sort of meaning. But I’m not going to hap on the camera work because, a few decidedly bad choices aside, it’s far from the worst technical offender.
The dialogue is bad, unapologetically mixing hopelessly stilted ancient-sounding line like, “three moons hence” with decidedly modern turns of phrase, but easily the worst parts about the technical execution in The Legend of Hercules is the CGI and the use of 3D. Let’s start with the first of those. There’s a point very early in the film where Hercules and his brother encounter a gigantic lion. A year removed from The Life of Pi, and perhaps even more tellingly, nine years since The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, you’d expect any professional VFX studio to be able to turn out a competent computer generated animal. Oh, how you’d be wrong. The lion in question is laughably fake looking, and the CG gets no better as the film progresses. There’s a sequence in a gladiatorial arena, for example, where the computerized crowd looks more like something out of a FIFA or Madden video game than an actual mass of spectators. I mean, come on. Forrest Gump figured this out twenty years ago (the fact that they composited a shot from a small group of real people rather than using a computer generated crowd notwithstanding). There’s absolutely no excuse for how bad this looks.
But arguably worse is the use of 3D effects, especially because it’s a movie that’s blatantly intended to artificially inflate box office numbers with the more expensive 3D tickets. I’s been several years since I’ve seen jump-at-your-face 3D that approached how obnoxiously bad the 3D is in this movie. And I say that after having seen the movie in 2D, not 3D. Yeah, it’s that bad. It gets started with arrows flying at the screen in the opening battle sequence, and whether it’s flower petals or snowflakes or giant whips, it never lets up.
But what about the action itself? Unfortunately, it doesn’t fare much better. There are some cool moves, but the fight scenes never look real. What they really reminded me of was a WWE match: lots of bluster, little real impact. There’s even an action sequence that takes place in a ring, with the combatants vaulting off the boundries and using props like the broken pieces of the railing. In short, there’s a lot of flash, but no bang.
All this is without even going into how thematically confused this movie is, mixing very out of place Judeo-Christian motifs with alternatively undeveloped stabs at pacifism, populism, moralism, love (of both the familial and romantic varieties), and faith, but I think you get the point, so I’ll stop beating the dead horse.
The Verdict: 1 out of 5
I expected The Legend of Hercules to be bad. Maybe that’s a poor attitude to have going into a movie, but I saw the trailer and TV spots. No, the story is not that this isn’t a great movie, it’s that this is a movie that doesn’t even try. It does nothing original because it isn’t even making the attempt. It’s the worst kind of blatant studio cash grab, and it should be avoided wherever possible.