With Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan. Written by Daniel Giat, Renny Harlin, Sean Hood, Giulio Steve. Directed by Renny Harlin. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense combat action and violence, and for some sensuality. 93 minutes.
Back in the late 1950s, there were a couple of cheaply-made Italian movies about Hercules where he was played by Steve Reeves, a former Mr. Universe-turned-actor. They made hash of the mythology and were not great filmmaking by any means, but audiences didn’t care and the films were hits. It’s unlikely that THE LEGEND OF HERCULES will fare as well, but it’s certainly following in the tradition of its forebears.
The nasty King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) has been busy waging war and his wife, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), is none too happy. Praying to Hera to bring peace, the Greek goddess appears through one of her priestesses and announces that Alcmene is going to be visited by her husband Zeus, king of the gods, who will impregnate her, and her son will be a prince of peace. If this sounds a bit off, it is, because it’s an odd mishmash of Greek mythology and the New Testament. However that’s what you get when four (!) writers decide to “improve” on the original story.
As you might imagine, Amphitryon is not at all pleased, and tells her that while he will accept the newborn son, it is their first born Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) who will become king. Twenty years pass. Hercules (Kellan Lutz) is grown up and in love with Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss), who has been promised to Iphicles. When the marriage is announced and Hebe makes her preference known, Hercules is sent off to Egypt to fight in a war that is clearly an excuse to kill him off. Instead, he survives, is enslaved, and works his way back to Greece for revenge and to rescue Hebe.
At this point they’re not even pretending to do the Hercules legend any more, although the writers of several other films, from “Ben-Hur” to “Gladiator,” may want to consult their lawyers. Instead, as we await the eventual showdown of good and evil we are treated to battles, swordplay, and gladiator fights. Since a sizable percentage of what we see on screen is computer animation, there are times where you feel like you’re watching a video game, although it’s not nearly as creative.
Instead, if you choose to go along for the ride, you can cheer on Hercules and hope that he and Hebe survive to the end. When the plot gets muddled, as it does occasionally, you can simply decide that Zeus must have intervened, as the unseen Greek god does in a couple of the late battle scenes. As for the acting, this is an early 2014 release, not a late 2013 one, so no one is going to be thinking back on this at the end of the year for award consideration. Lutz is pleasantly heroic, Weiss manages to be both strong and wistful, Adkins suitably snarls and Garrigan cringes in the best “evil, weaker brother” tradition. Perhaps the one who comes closest to acting is character player Rade Serbedzija as Chiron, who seems to be nursemaid and tutor to the household.
“The Legend Of Hercules” isn’t very good, and its attempt to be a cheaper version of “300” will no doubt disappoint many. It certainly will do little to resuscitate the big screen career of action director Renny Harlin, who had a couple of hits twenty years ago and has done most of his work on television recently. Yet for those willing to leave their critical faculties behind and remember what it was to be like to be an 11 year old with a bag of popcorn at the movies on a Saturday afternoon, it is not without its charms.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide has just been released. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.