The Legend of Hercules Synopsis: The origin story of the mythical Greek hero. Betrayed by his stepfather, the King, and exiled and sold into slavery because of a forbidden love, Hercules must use his formidable powers to fight his way back to his rightful kingdom. (Synopsis from IMDb)
Hercules Synopsis: Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord. (Synopsis from IMDb)
Review: I grew up reading the Greek Myths and Heracles is one of the better stories. However, Hollywood has yet to create a decent movie based on these mythos. In 2014, two separate directors decided to bring the legendary Greek myth to life on the big screen. They both had one problem, they adapted the Roman legends. Hercules is the son of Jupiter, Heracles is the son of Zeus. While the stories are essentially the same, the names are quite different. I know that Hercules and Heracles are one in the same, but for movies purporting to be about the Greek myth, the name needed to be Heracles. Maybe I am splitting hairs, but the inaccuracy really annoyed me.
In Greek mythology, Heracles is the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. Hera, the wife of Zeus, is a jealous goddess and wanted to kill the child. In order to appease the goddess, the woman named her son Heracles, which means the Glory of Hera. However, Hera is not so easily placated and decided to wreak her vengeance regardless. So she drove Heracles insane, to the point where he murdered his wife and children. Once Hera restored his sanity, Heracles recognized the horror of his actions and embarked on the famous twelve labors as penance. The Legend of Hercules focuses on Hercules’ life before the laborers and Hercules explores his life afterwards.
The Legend of Hercules opens in Ancient Greece 1212 B.C., where a jacked Kellan Lutz plays the lovelorn and clueless Hercules. Horror of horrors, Hercules’ one true love is promised in marriage to his brother. After a failed attempt to run away, Hercules is banished to a life in exile and sold into slavery. Can he rescue his lady love and fulfill his supernatural destiny? Oh the drama! Unfortunately, this film fails to deliver on all fronts. The cinematography reminded me of poorly shot student films. There is one scene where Hercules fights a lion and the staging is absolutely ridiculous. This film suffers from taking itself overly seriously. Most of the cinematography attempts to reach the heights achieved in 300 by staging some horrific pseudo-epic CGI sequences. These sequences could almost double as a poor animated film instead of a live action adventure.
Poor Kellan Lutz has neither the experience nor script needed for such a role. Lutz goes for the overly manscaped and beefcake appearance in this film. However, his performance is neither over-top-enough nor impressive enough to carry the film forward. So all that is left is some impressive shots of his abdominal muscles. Which leads to my main problem with this film, a lack of ruggedness. Over the course of the film, Hercules leaves the palace, fights in Egypt, fights in the Gladiatorial arenas (which did not exist yet), and stages a revolution. And through all this his beard and hair remain perfectly trimmed and there is not a single chest hair in sight. He is the cleanest gladiator in history. Overall, Lutz suffers from a bad script, horrible pacing, and an uncharismatic screen presence. Lutz is great in ensemble films, but he simply does not have the talent/experience to headline a film. In other words, The Legend of Hercules will make you long for the complexity of Wrath of the Titans. There is exactly one scene where any of the actors come close to achieving anything resembling to actual emotion.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s turn as the legendary hero in Hercules had no trouble surpassing the low hurdle introduced by The Legend of Hercules. The Rock was sufficiently hairy and dirty, this film is already ten times better out of the gate. Based loosely off Steve Moore and Craig Bolsin’s graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian War, the narrative follows the mythic Hercules in the years after he performed the twelve labors. Now he and his merry band of mercenaries turn their tricks for the sake of gold. Their next job is to train the King of Thrace’s army in order to wage war against a possible supernatural warlord named Rhesus. But Hercules faces a moral dilemma once he realizes how far he has fallen since his days of heroism. With one last chance at redemption, Hercules rallies his band, saves the day, and proves that he is indeed a man of legend.
The film did not disappoint me, but I had extremely low expectations. Most of the time the movie felt like an unwieldy mashup between epic fantasy and B-grade action trope. Instead of adapting the myth, the film attempts to explore how legends are actually formed and the true meaning of heroism. Which is actually a great concept in theory but was poorly executed. Part of the problem is any moment of meaningful character development is severely shortened. There are certainly some excellent action sequences, but they are choreographed devoid of creativity or originality. Johnson certainly has the talent required to pull off a more intense character study. Reducing him to a collection of a cheesy one-liners is a waste of epic proportions.
Most of the supporting cast is relegated to portraying poorly developed stock characters. There is the wise old warrior, the Xena Warrior Princess knockoff, the temperamental warrior, and the hotheaded inept warrior in training. Really it would not have hurt the film to include one decent character who was meant for something other than comic relief. Hercules is an action film devoid of violence or gritty action sequences. There is no complex emotion or anything remotely inspiring, the film does not even have the dignity of giving the titular character a noble death. And the CGI is only marginally better than the other horrific film exploring this poorly served legend.
Mythological tales from around the globe have been horrendously misrepresented by Hollywood. If the narrative is going to veer away from the source, then it should at least be done in style. Either go cheesy or go serious, but do not try to mangle together a cheesy story that takes itself too seriously. Neither The Legend of Hercules nor Hercules are decent adaptations of the wonderful Greek Legend. Read the myth, it is an epic adventure.