Sound familiar? Well it should, because The Legend Of Hercules doesn’t have a unique bone in its well-oiled muscular body.
And so it begins again. Why does Hollywood have this sick fascination with telling the same story twice in one year? In 2010, we had two supervillain protagonists in Megamind and Despicable Me. 2011 gave us two sex-only relationships with No Strings Attached and Friends With Benefits. Snow White’s story comprised two 2012 films, Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman. Most ridiculously, last year saw not one, but two White House invasion movies with Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down.
And now, not even two weeks into 2014, we already have our theme for 2014. Paired with an upcoming Dwayne Johnson-starring summer movie, The Legend Of Hercules is the first attempt to tell the mythical Greek hero’s tale this year. Kellan Lutz (from the Twilight franchise) is the only recognizable face in this cookie-cutter “swords and sandals” imitation. Let’s hope The Rock can save the second installment, because this idea is Dead On Arrival.
The plot is embarrassingly predictable and derivative. Our hero Hercules (Lutz) grows up unaware of the fact that Zeus, not his tyrannical father Amphitryon, is his true father. In his early 20s, he is marched off to sure death in combat in Egypt while his true love is betrothed to his power-hungry evil brother. After being sold into slavery and forced to become a gladiator, Hercules learns his true nature and must return to Greece to save his love and free his homeland from the iron-fisted rule of his father and brother. Sound familiar? Well it should, because The Legend Of Hercules doesn’t have a unique bone in its well-oiled muscular body.
The overt references to Gladiator are sickening, right down to the casting of a young Joaquin Phoenix look-alike as the lovesick “I will MAKE you love me!” heir to the throne. Just for good measure, it has torture scenes with Christ imagery to establish our hero as “savior.” The screenplay is almost as lazy as the premise, with half of the four “memorable” lines of dialogue being word-for-word restatements of the first two. I know we go to dumb action movies like these to watch and not to listen, but Hercules offers us little worthwhile in that department as well.
The hastily-done 3D effects add nothing but dollars to an already impossibly high budget ($70 million!) for a January release. Pair that with the constant (and I mean constant) use of slow motion, and you have a 300 wannabe, complete with birds-eye views of corpses with weapons sticking straight up into the air. I understand the draw towards intense and dramatic slow motion in climactic fight scenes, but I draw the line at drastically slowing down a romantic horse ride in the woods. I almost wonder if they needed all that elongated footage to fit the time parameter of a feature film. I neglected to mention that less than 15 minutes of screen time are actually devoted to using these effects. As a result, audience eyes never really adjust to the spectacle on the screen.
What this 3D did make me realize is that I have probably never seen worse CG in a movie. The first two minutes (a fight scene depicting Amphitryon’s rise to power) look like a first-generation XBOX 360 game, leading me to actually wonder if it was going to become a fully animated movie. If the consistently fake scenery and large crowds weren’t enough of a distraction, Hercules and his brother encounter the Nemean Lion 20 minutes in, a creature so hideously rendered that it makes the beasts in After Earth look Oscar-worthy.
Which brings me to another thing. What movie claims to be a “legend” and leave out the most known pieces of his storied mythology? The Nemean Lion was one of Hercules’ Twelve Labors in atonement for killing his own children in a gods-inflicted rage. Neither of these crucial details are even hinted at within the movie, which wastes multiple chances at some real character development, in lieu of the flex-and-discover method patented by Lutz here. Replacing one of the most famous tales with the most stock Hollywood love triangle is an insult to the subject material.
What makes all this so disappointing is that we’re not dealing with a first-time director here. Renny Harlin has been a successful action director for a quarter century, with his own Die Hard 2 and Deep Blue Sea being perfect examples of perfectly capable action movies overcoming the absurdities of their stories. This is the kind of uninspired filmmaking I’ve come to expect from new directors lucky enough to get the chance to direct a studio film.
Nothing more than a chance to see the physically fit Kellan Lutz romp around Ancient Greece shirtless, The Legend Of Hercules’ lone saving grace is its embarrassingly (for a so-called “epic”) short 91-minute runtime. Dwayne Johnson should have no problem creating a superior Hercules film, provided that he supplies at least one line of meaningful dialogue. Perhaps we’ve all been spoiled by a much better than average Oscar season, because this is the kind of January film that makes me wish for a time machine. But a time machine to 4 months ago, not 4,000 years, because I want no part of Ancient Greece if it looked as phony as it looked in this movie.
RYAN’s RATING: 1 Star out of 4