D: Renny Harlin / 99m
Cast: Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Gaia Weiss, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan, Liam McIntyre, Rade Serbedzija, Johnathon Schaech, Luke Newberry, Kenneth Cranham
The ongoing (but occasional) resurgence of sword-and-sandal movies in recent years, since 2002’s Gladiator, has been a largely disappointing event, with the movies concentrating more on the visuals than on coherent storylines (in particular, see anything with the word Titans in the title). There’s another version of the Hercules story coming later this year starring Dwayne Johnson; on this evidence it shouldn’t be any worse (but if you watch the trailer you might not be so sure).
As an origin story, The Legend of Hercules makes two decisions at the start that affect the rest of the movie. One, it introduces the villain of the piece, King Amphitryon (Adkins), as a power-hungry despot eager to conquer the lands around his own kingdom, no matter how peaceful they are; and Two, has conquered Queen Alcmene (McKee) pray to Hera for a deliverer from Amphitryon’s cruelty. Alcmene has a second child, courtesy of a wild five minutes with Zeus, and so, we fast forward twenty years later, to meet grown up Alcides (Lutz), officially Amphitryon’s second son, and unaccountably blond where Alcmene and Amphitryon, and his “brother” Iphicles (McGarrigan) are all dark-haired. Alcides is in love with Greek princess Hebe (Weiss) but she is to be betrothed to Iphicles. They try to run away but are caught, and Alcides is sent on a certain death mission led by Sotiris (McIntyre). The two men survive but their captor, Tarak (Schaech) sells the them into slavery to Lucius (Cranham) and they are forced to take part in gladiatorial games.
Meanwhile, Hebe and Alcmene believe Alcides is dead, and the planned marriage is still going ahead, even though Iphicles knows Hebe doesn’t love him. Back in the slave pens, Alcides and Sotiris convince Lucius to let them compete in a gladiator contest in Greece where two men face six undefeated gladiators, and if they win, they also win their freedom. Sotiris is injured though, and Alcides decides to fight the gladiators by himself (you’ll be surprised to learn he wins quite comfortably). Alcides and Sotiris return home and begin gathering supporters from amongst the people and the King’s army in order to overthrow Amphitryon. Alcmene dies at Amphitryon’s hand, but not before he learns of Alcides’ true name, and his true father (and at the same time, Alcides, who has gone by the name of Hercules since being captured by Tarak, learns about his true father too). Captured (again), Hercules calls on his father to aid him and he escapes, regroups his followers, and marches on Amphitryon’s citadel.
From the start, The Legend of Hercules is weighed down by unwieldy, cod-ancient dialogue, and the kind of plotting that is like wading through treacle. The script, by Sean Hood and Daniel Giat, is a mismatch of cliché and contrivance that makes no concession to logic or even sense. Scenes come and go in a perfunctory manner without ever making an impression, or adding any depth to the proceedings. And the whole thing seems to have been written at speed, without any concern as to how it would all flow together. It’s a lazy piece of screenwriting, that does just enough to get by, but which fails on almost every level to achieve any kind of dramatic intensity. A case in point: when Hercules learns of his mother’s death, he might as well have been told the 2-for-1 offer on sandals at the local market has ended for all the emotion the scene imparts.
But there’s an even greater problem, previously mentioned above: the two early decisions made by the movie. Twenty years on from Amphitryon’s all-conquering days overthrowing kingdoms left, right and centre, he seems to have been quiet on the battlefront since then, with no further mention of empire building or even domestic oppression. So, where’s the need for Hercules to overthrow his “father’s” tyranny? It’s all in the past, so the movie has to create a need for Amphitryon’s removal (and which proves as banal as possible: the need to protect the alliance brought about by Iphicles’ marriage to Hebe). And if Alcmene thought the problem was so bad as to seek divine intervention, why did she go along with the whole “child of Zeus” arrangement? Didn’t she realise it would mean years of further tyranny before Hercules was of an age to do anything about it?
With these and other fundamental questions – why does Tarak sell Hercules and Sotiris into slavery when he’s been paid to kill everyone? (Answer: because the screenwriters couldn’t come up with a decent reason why not) – left unexplored or explained, The Legend of Hercules becomes a silly, lame attempt to revisit one of the most popular of the Greek myths, and in the process, undermines it completely. The cast, perhaps sensing there’s no way of retrieving any dignity from the demands of the script, bravely do their best but most, including McGarrigan and Weiss, don’t even try and phone in their performances (perhaps from another movie). Adkins is no one’s idea of a good actor and he reinforces that opinion here, while Lutz shows his immaturity and lack of experience are obstacles he’s yet to overcome. (Only Cranham, taking on Oliver Reed’s role in Gladiator, makes any kind of impact, but sadly, he’s not on screen enough.)
However… the visuals are impressive, even if some of the depth perception is a little skewed at times (the Greek arena – just how big is it when seen against the rest of the city?), and Harlin is the kind of hack who knows how to shoot an action scene, so there’s always something to hold the attention when you’re not cringing at the dialogue. But ultimately, these are aspects to the production that aren’t strong enough to make up for all the rest of the movie’s shortcomings.
Rating: 4/10 – lamentable and turgid are just two words the screenwriters should have applied to their own script, but didn’t; a woeful (hoped-for) money maker that has all the appeal of a village talent show, and heaps derision on itself without anyone else needing to help.