Film Review: The Legend of HerculesA chintzy, poorly acted origin story of the legendary Greek hero that blatantly mimics its genre ancestors while drenching its action in corny 3D and CG-enhanced slow-motion.
An ungodly Hercules origin story that borrows liberally—which is to say, steals incessantly—from both 300 and Gladiator, The Legend of Hercules concerns the half-deity son of Zeus waging rebellion against his Earthly father in order to save his true love from being married off to his weasely brother. Born after his mother prays to the gods for her people to be delivered from the tyranny of her husband, King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), Hercules (Kellan Lutz) finds himself in a bind when it’s announced that his paramour, Hebe (Gaia Weiss), the Princess of Crete, is to be betrothed to his older sibling Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), a cowardly loser in the vein of Joaquin Phoenix’s Commodus from Gladiator.
Because he knows of Hercules’ feelings for Hebe, King Amphitryon sends him off to battle in Egypt. There, he promptly becomes a slave and then, with the aid of compatriot Sotiris (Liam McIntyre) and some superhuman fighting skills, slowly makes his way back home and mounts a rebellion that’s as formulaic as the proceedings’ stuff-flying-at-your-face 3D is hokey.
Though once a capable action director, Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder, The Long Kiss Goodnight), stages his derivative material with a compendium of Zack Snyder-inspired visual flourishes, be it the hyper-glossy color palette that douses everything—especially a too-long-in-the-sun-looking Lutz—in bronze hues, or “speed-ramping” effects in which the action vacillates between fast-forward and slow-motion at a moment’s notice. That latter device is primarily used for an overwhelming number of shots in which Lutz leaps into the air and then descends, face growling and sword raised, toward one of his victims, a recurring sight that makes even the film’s signature set-pieces come to seem interchangeable, not to mention downright dull.
As the legendary Greek hero, Lutz has the enormously muscular physique but about as much charisma as the average rock, and his romantic rapport with Weiss is almost as clunky as a climactic speech in which he rallies his troops against King Amphitryon while astride a horse and wearing armor and a long, flowing cape à la Russell Crowe’s Gladiator champion Maximus. Lutz’s lifeless leading-man turn, however, is no worse than the performances of his supporting cast. Garrigan turns out to be a gratingly simplistic wimp-prince, and Adkins, such a formidable presence in his own action vehicles (Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning, Ninja II), is mostly left to bellow and rage with cartoonish fury. In bookending skirmishes, Adkins at least gets to show off his imposing fighting skills, but even those standout scenes are sabotaged by an overreliance on camerawork gimmickry and a lack of inventive choreography.
In the end, the most unique aspect of The Legend of Hercules is the unintentionally hilarious cornrows-and-ponytail hairstyle of Johnathon Schaech’s Egyptian baddie. Still, that’s not nearly enough to compensate for the general chintziness of this entire enterprise, which—sidestepping any real instances of God-like grandeur, and thus lacking any sense of mythic scale or import—ultimately proves to be merely Z-grade rubbish that’s unlikely to remembered after its in-all-likelihood brief stay in theatres.