There are usually two types of movies in theaters in January/February. The first are the awards seasons movies, released late December, and getting wide release early in the year to keep them fresh in the voters and viewers minds. The second are the movies that production companies dump because they aren’t good, and theater sales aren’t high early in the year. Occasionally you can find a gem in this dumping ground, something so bad it’s good and entertaining – last year’s Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is still one of my favorite movies of last year. However, more often, you find something so terrible, it’s just straight up terrible – Season of the Witch is an example of this (although, keep in mind, I still found that pretty entertaining – but I can’t recommend it for anyone else).
The new Legend of Hercules is terrible, and it does look good here and there, it's a perfectly acceptable piece of January entertainment.
It is directed by Renny Harlin, the legendary, I'm sorry, I meant "legendary", director behind Long Kiss Goodnight (one of my favorites), Cutthroat Island (entertaining, but not great - both this and Long Kiss Goodnight were done while Harlin was dating Geena Davis), and Deep Blue Sea (what does a giant shark dream of? - and what is your hat like?). In case you haven't seen Deep Blue Sea - you really need to, because it features one of the very best Samuel L. Jackson scenes ever, a statement he himself has made.
If you’re anything like me, then Kevin Sorbo is your Hercules, and he made you want to visit New Zealand long before you knew who Peter Jackson was. You can stream this entire series on Netflix now. Do yourself a favor and watch a couple of episodes.
Hercules, according to legend, was an ancient greek half-god. Incidentally, Hercules is the Roman version of the name, in Greek it is Heracles. Son of Zeus and a human female (Alcmene), he was gifted with inhuman strength and powers. He set about on 12 ‘labors’ which included slaying the Nemean Lion, killing a Hydra, capturing the Golden Hind, capturing the Erymanthian Boar, cleaning the Augean stables, slaying the Stymphalian Birds, capturing the Cretan Bull, stealing the mares of Diomedes, getting Hippolyta’s (queen of the Amazons – and Wonder Woman’s mother) girdle, taking the cattle of the monster Geryon, stealing the apples of the Hesperides, and finally to capture and bring back Cerberus. He was a busy guy.
In this particular version, we see Hercules born to his mother Queen Alcmene, after Alcmene willingly gives herself to Zeus to have a son that will overthrow her wicked husband King Amphitryon and his terrible son Iphicles. See, Amphitryon has just taken over a city through war, and continues to seek out war throughout the land, and she’s tired of it. We cut to twenty years later and see that Hercules has grown into a hunky heartthrob, while his brother Iphicles has grown into a whiny bitch. Both the king and queen haven't aged, but they have painted streaks of gray in their hair (hey, when you would rather spend your budget on slow motion action sequences, you can't afford aging makeup, so you make do with streaks of gray). Hercules is now in love with the princess of a neighboring town, Hebe. As they get closer, Iphicles gets more jealous, and rigs a contrived situation in which Amphitryon declares that Iphicles will marry Hebe. Well, this upsets Hercules and Hebe, so they attempt to take off, but don’t get very far. It is by far the worst escape attempt ever as they get caught in a river. Amphitryon is pissed, so he ‘rewards’ Hercules by sending him off to war in Egypt, along with Captain Sotiris. What they don’t know is that Amphitryon has paid the Egyptians to make sure Hercules is killed. What they do know is that Amphitryon halves their army just before they set out. The two of them survive, claiming that Hercules is dead. They get sold into slavery and gladiator their way back into Greece. They then set out to reclaim what is left of the army and take back the kingdom.
The movie is fairly fast-paced (everybody loves a 90 minute action flick!), and looks slick. This is yet another movie that demonstrates the influence of Zack Snyder's 300 on the 'sword-n-sandal' genre. It is out in 3D, and there are a lot of old school 3D fun points. It opens with a barrage of arrows raining down on you, which on one hand is awesome, but on the other hand, made me duck in my seat, attempting to dodge arrows. Harlin knows how to direct action, and the movie is non-stop action, which is where its entertainment lies. It’s the scenes in between, the dialogue moments, where it starts to drag. Everyone in the movie is good looking, and they pull it off as best they can.
- Kellan Lutz – best known as Emmett from the Twilight series, plays this version of Hercules, and he’s fine for what’s expected of him. It's not his first foray into this genre, as he played Poseidon in Immortals. I suppose he was destined to either move into this genre, or more tween romance type stuff. This is probably way more fun, and he looks great doing it. I think he has potential, and I look forward to his next action movie.
- Gaia Weiss (no seriously, her name is Gaia) plays the princess Hebe. She is a pretty standard damsel in distress, but she got interesting later on when she gets angry that she’s being forced to marry Iphicles. She refuses over and over again – and honestly, her final solve for the issue is pretty badass.
- Scott Adkins plays the King, and my goodness this dude is ripped. You probably noticed his rippedness and skill in Expendables 2. He’s fantastic looking and plays the evil king with a sort of wild abandon. Or, at least a barely contained abandon. He really enjoys chewing the scenery, and in a movie like this – you’re better off the more people are doing that.
- Roxanne McKee plays Queen Alcmene, and she is interesting, she’s bitter and angry and determined to find a way to stop her husband to bring peace to the land.
- Liam Garrigan plays Iphicles, and man is this dude creepy. He does manage to bring a petty vindictiveness to Iphicles, and then can twist that into jealous-ness that his mother loves Hercules but not him.
- Liam McIntyre plays essentially the same character he played on Spartacus in his noble Captain Sotiris betrayed by his king. He’s clearly good at this type of thing because he’ s got the experience. He’s actually really good in this, and commits completely to the movie. He probably needs a better vehicle.
- The fantastic Rade Serbedzija (go watch Snatch again if you haven’t seen it in a while) plays Chiron, who seems to be part teacher, part philosopher, and part nanny. He keeps watch over the queen until she’s not around anymore, then tries to help the princess.
- Jonathon Schaech briefly shows up as the Egyptian leader Tarak. He has very little to do, but I sure enjoyed his costuming.
- Kenneth Cranham plays the gladiator owner/gambler Lucius, who really is the exact same character from the movie Gladiator and is responsible for bringing Hercules and Sotiris back to Greece.
Listen, it’s not good – but it’s at least entertaining. If you’re going to see it, see it in 3D, just watch out for all the arrows, and the occasional spear.
6 out of 10 – Lost points for way too many horse chase sequences. Gained points for the gladiator fights, they were well done. Lost points for the prepping the army speech – we’ve seen that way too many times. Gained points for the Egyptian army helmets. Lost points for the ending as if there is going to be a sequel – not a chance. Also lost points for the obvious 300 influences. I know it's an influence, but a little more subtle on that note would be just fine.
Bonus Video 1: Cutthroat Island
Bonus Video 2: Hercules in New York - seriously.
Bonus Video 3: Immortals - in case you were wondering about Lutz's version of Poseidon (this was almost the same movie):
Bonus Video 3: Cast interviews.