The Legend Of Hercules


Reviewed by: David Graham

The Legend Of Hercules
"It’s all so straight-faced and humourless as to feel redundant, especially with such a bland protagonist."

It’s hard not to feel sorry for Renny Harlin: one of Hollywood’s better journeyman directors, he’s capable of producing lovably trashy but genuinely exciting B-pics (from Cliffhanger to Deep Blue Sea), but when he gets it wrong, he does it right. This latest would-be epic is his most heroically inept yet (not bad for someone with Cutthroat Island and Exorcist: The Beginning on their CV), and feels like a life sentence despite clocking in at under 100 minutes. Its only redeeming feature is its complete lack of redeeming features: there’s an endearing awfulness to the production that makes for compulsive viewing, tipping over into camp caricature frequently enough to ensure unintentional comedy value.

When Amphitryon - King of Ancient Greece - finds his lust for conquering nations sated, his desires to father a worthy heir to the throne are undermined by Queen Alcmene's giving birth to the son of a deity. 'Alcides' grows up in competition with his elder half-brother Iphicles, their love for Cretian princess Hebe eventually leading to the latter betraying his sibling and having him banished from the kingdom. Forced into slavery, Alcides must fight for his freedom in gladiatorial combat, where legends of his strength lead to him discovering his true nature as Hercules, prophesied son of Zeus, setting him on a quest to defeat Amphitryon in order to restore peace to Greece and win back Hebe.

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A sweeping opening sequence is laden with what were obviously planned to be 3D effects, cheapening techniques that already reek of sub-standard videogame animation. Harlin actually manages to make Zack Snyder's 300 style look elevated, adopting the same burnished tones and juddering between slo-mo and sped-up action in ways that only make the director look even more like a bandwagon-hopper.

Pretty soon there are spectral fumbles in the dark, the first truly laugh-out-loud sequence depicting Hercules’ immaculate conception as if Harlin is spoofing Tony Scott's The Hunger. Crucially, where the 300 series has the clout to back up its melodramatics with grit and gore, this Hercules is lumbered with a 12A cert and is therefore cripplingly blood- and boob-less. 300: Rise Of An Empire at least has a topless Eva Green rape-fighting her leading man.

Arguably the most wooden of the Twi-thesps, Kellan Lutz might have the brawn but he just doesn’t have the brio to carry something this OTT in the way Chris Hemsworth proved capable of with the Thor series. To make matters worse, he’s often caked in bronzing makeup to the extent he resembles Robert Downey Jr’s controversial method actor character in Tropic Thunder – it’s as if blackface never happened. Early scenes of him cavorting in ludicrously unconvincing waterfall pools give the film a Forties B-adventure feel that Harlin might have been wise to pursue, but it’s all so straight-faced and humourless as to feel redundant, especially with such a bland protagonist. He also manages to slip between ye olde English and daytime LA soap-speak while looking like he's been dubbed in post - quite a feat.

Not that his costars fare much better: Roxanne McKee makes a distractingly young mum at a whole 5 years older than Lutz (hey, maybe the Zeus-spunk has rapid spurt effects), while Liam Garrigan pulls a Rufus Sewell but doesn't do much other than scowl and simper. Gaia Weiss adds to the melting pot of accents with her occasional Aussie brogue, and has about as little to do as you'd expect: she doesn't even get tied to any rocks (that's saved for hunky Herc during the, ahem, climax). Scott Adkins at least hams it up – literally, given his impressive bulk – as the blustering King, coming across as the only one who knows how ridiculous it all is, his performance a brilliant caricature of Gerard Butler's Spartan schtick.

If the deplorable Scary Movie team were to lampoon the swords’n’sandals subgenre for an entire film – surprising they haven’t stooped to that actually – they’d be hard pushed to trump this for snickers-per-minute. It could well go on to become a Showgirls-style classic for connoisseurs of camp – Adkins’ scenery-gorging alone qualifies it for beer-addled rewatching - but with Game Of Thrones keeping viewers glued to TV and monitor screens, Hollywood really needs to do better than this opportunistic drivel. It could be the nail in the coffin – stake in the heart? – for Lutz’s career, but Harlin will no doubt bounce back; his Dyatlov Pass Incident showed he can still raise hairs as well as critical hackles. Maybe The Rock's forthcoming Hercules flick will do justice to the legends, but then again, that's directed by Brett Ratner. Zeus save us all...

Reviewed on: 03 Apr 2014
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The Legend Of Hercules packshot
The legendary hero is torn between love and the duty to fulfill his destiny.
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Director: Renny Harlin

Writer: Sean Hood, Daniel Giat

Starring: Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan, Liam McIntyre

Year: 2014

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: US


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