It's almost hard to believe, but there was a point in Renny Harlin's career when he was one of the leading directors in Hollywood. Not leading in a sense of critical acclaim, but more like the Michael Bay aspect where his films brought in truckloads of money. He got his big break with 1988's A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master, which was the highest grossing entry of the series at the time, and then went on to direct the second Die Hard, which actually outperformed the beloved original. His next film was 1993's Cliffhanger, which also set the world on fire and earned nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.
It seemed he was the Next Big Thing, so famed movie studio Carolco gave him somewhere in the area of $100 million dollars to direct a larger than life adventure about pirates Cutthroat Island. I'll get into MUCH greater detail about this film when I get around to reviewing it, needless to say the film bombed as hard as humanly possible to the point it was THE biggest box office dud of all time for many years to follow. This effectively killed Harlin's A-list status, and his career has steadily slid downhill ever since.
This brings us to today's film, the Legend of Hercules. Not only did Harlin direct it, but he co-wrote it with the relatively unknown Daniel Giat, who only has two made for TV credits on his resume. Helping out on the script were Giulio Steve and Sean Hood, a name you should recognize if you read my thoughts on the second Cube movie. Hercules... did not do well. It was made for 70 million dollars, and didn't even make 20 million domestically. Factoring in the all important foreign box office receipts, it barely cleared 60 million dollars total. It didn't fare any well critically, earning a dreadful THREE PERCECT on Rotten Tomatoes and racking up a Michael Bay-esque six Razzie Award nominations. What was SO terrible about it? How could a movie starring the big guy from Twilight perform so horribly? It's time to find out, so break out your gladiator gear, cue up the slow motion, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus The Legend of Hercules!
We open with TONS OF HORRIBLY FAKE LOOKING CGI, because this was a 3D movie. Kids are still into that, right? Captions tell us this is Argos, Greece in the year 1200 B.C., as we see a massive battle being waged between two Greek armies that in NO WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM resembles the film 300. Like, I don't even know why you'd bring it up. The two kings, Amphitryon and Galenus, meet face to face and make a deal to engage in a one-on-one battle, whoever wins gets his opponent's kingdom. Many shitty 3D and slow motion shots later, and Amphy (I am NOT typing that long name again), stands victorious.
That night there is much rejoicing among Amphy's people, with the exception of his wife, Queen Alcmene. She accuses her husband of invading Argos only for its riches, as the fallen kingdom had posed no threat to them and had been coexisting in peace. She goes to a nearby temple to pray to the goddess Hera for help on how to deal with her power mad husband, shocked when Hera herself appears. The goddess says Alcmene will have another son that'll end Amphy's madness, but the catch is Zeus has to be the father because he's filled with lust over Alcmene. Remind me why is Hera down with all of this? This seems a bit out of character with the way she's portrayed in mythology.
Alcmene returns to her tent to sleep, where she promptly gets raped by... lightning? I get that it's meant to be Zeus having sex with her, but all we see if her writhing in bed and moaning sexually while lightning flashes. Showgirls, you may now hand over your crown for Most Awkward Sex Scene EVER. Amphy and Random Movie Bimbo #5,604,414 walk in to witness this insanity, but sadly don't turn around and walk out. Instead Amphy begins angrily slashing at the air with his sword, determined to catch the Invisible Man. He also kills some faceless woman that magically appeared in the shot despite not being there in the previous frame. For a second I thought it was the Bimbo (which would have made sense), but we can see her standing behind the dead woman.
Nine months later and Alcmene gives birth to Hercules, but Amphy decides to call him Alcides because he's a dick like that. He also declares he'll never be an equal to their other son Iphicles, who is a few years older than him. We jump ahead twenty years, where Alcides/Hercules has grown up to be the dashing Kellan Lutz. His hobbies are being as shirtless as possible and hanging out with his best gal Hebe, who is played by fellow Razzie nominee Gaia Weiss. Their ponderous “I love you/I love you more” scene is THANKFULLY cut short by the arrival of Iphicles, who has been dispatched to find the missing Hebe. It seems Hebe is the princess of nearby Crete, and left for her indiscretion with Teen Dream without telling anyone.
Naturally Iphicles follows in his father's footsteps and is a total asshole towards Alcides, which makes me wonder how his character is going to play out. Will he turn out to be a total monster and end up being one of the Final Bosses, or will he redeem himself at the last possible moment by helping Hercules out? I'm going to go with redemption. The two brothers ride home, where they get attacked by some Xbox 360-level CGI in the form on a lion. But it's just not any old lion, it's the Nemean Lion of the Twelve Labours of Hercules lore, a fearful creature with near invulnerable fur. Just like in the legends, Alcides strangles it to death after finding their weapons are worthless against it. Returning to their castle, Iphicles is wearing the beast's fur as a trophy, saying HE is the one who killed it and showing off for the court.
Alcides doesn't bother to correct him, because he really doesn't give a damn and is more interested in smiling at Hebe, who is present along with her father King Tallas. Amphy announces in four months that his kingdom will sign a peace treaty with Crete, on the condition that Hebe marries Iphicles. OH SNAP! Hebe storms out of the castle and takes off, Alcides running right after her. They make plans to run away together, while back at the castle Amphy bitches out Iphicles for letting her future wife leave like that. So far I support the nominations for Kellan Lutz and Gaia Weiss for Worst Actor and Actress, but how the hell did Iphicles' actor, Liam Garigan, not garner a nod for Worst Supporting Actor? He's treating this shit like a Saturday Night Live sketch, and not one of the good ones.
We cut to the next morning, where the two lovers are being pursued by Amphy's army on horseback. Kinda feel like we missed a scene or two there... They get captured and brought to Amphy, who announces Alcides is on the first boat headed to Egypt to help squash an uprising happening there. Iphicles, another name I'm getting tired of typing so I'm just going to call him Punk Ass, has his father ask if Alcides has “taken Hebe's maidenhood”. Alcides implies he has in a line that really needed to be wittier, so Punk Ass tries to beat him up and just ends up embarrassing himself. I'm officially changing my pick to Punk Ass turning into a Final Boss, because I REALLY want to see him die now. And since this script is already feeling like it's five different drafts merged into one with no attempt at integrating them, we get a scene of Alcides packing his bags for what is sure to be a suicide mission in Egypt while his mother tries to talk sense into him. I'll transcribe it:
Alcmene: Alcides, I beg you to understand that you have a purpose on this earth beyond this one desire.
Alcides: I have no purpose other than claiming the love that is mine. I damn the king for denying it to me, and I damn the gods for taking it from me!
Alcmene: Noooooo! Hercules!
Chiron (the Queen's advisor, who is the only other person to know the truth about Alcides): Your majesty, no!
Alcides: Your majesty...? What did you call me?
Alcmene: You are not the son of Amphitryon, I swear upon my love for you. You are Hercules, gift of Hera, son of Zeus.
Chiron: My prince?
Alcides: Has my mother spoken of this to anyone?
Chiron: No, I assure you, no one.
Alcides: Because the king is a jealous man and most likely believe this mad talk.
Alcmene looks at her son with a look of pure fucking confusing on his face, which coincidentally matches the one I had after watching this scene and rewinding it about eight times. What the fuck is he talking about? And that is what he said verbatim, I didn't omit any words of pluralization that should have been there. Then the scene just ends, because I get the impression absolutely no one involved in the making of this film gave a damn as long as their checks cleared. Amphy's army sets sail for Egypt, sailing across the seas in some hilariously bad green screen shots. I'm sure you're getting tired of me bagging on the CGI in this thing, but there is absolutely NO REASON for a big budget film made in 2013 to look THIS bad.
How about I discuss the wretched editing instead? A lot of scenes just end abruptly, such as the next one where Alcides is talking to the general of the troops, Sotiris. Sotiris is bitching about how Amphy didn't send enough men leading him to suspect the king wants them dead... and the scene just stops. Smooth storytelling flow, what's that?! By the way, Sotiris is probably the only “actor” in the entire movie, as he's played by Liam McIntyre of Spartacus fame. He should really be playing Hercules and not the Twilight guy, due to the fact he has immediately charisma and knows how to put emphasis on words. The next scene they're in Egypt, walking through a rocky passage where they get attacked by their enemies. Establishing shots, what are those?! The Greeks raise their shields and enter the Testudo formation, as you MIGHT have seen in 300. They fight valiantly- no wait, boring as possible until they're all killed off, save Alcides and Sotiris who get captured instead since they're the only characters the movie bothered to give names to.
Tarak, the enemy general, asks which soldier is Prince Alcides. Sotiris lies and points out one of the dead men, Tarak ordering one of his soldiers to take Alcides' helmet back to Amphy to brag. Tarak is about to have them killed when Alcides tells him to sell them into slavery instead, since they're survive the trial. Impressed by his moxie, Tarak asks what his name is. Gosh, WHATEVER will he respond with? And if you're keeping track of these things, Tarak is played by Johnathon Schaech, whom I will always remember as playing the bad guy in the 2008 remake of the slasher film Prom Night. A lot of people DESPISE that movie, saying it's just another pointless remake of a classic that didn't need updating, but it's one of the few remakes out there I'll actually defend.
Why will have to wait for another day, first we have to make it through this slog. Much padding does follow, including a jarring scene where Punk Ass goes to his mother to discuss how to win his bride-to-be over. Alcmene responds with outright scorn, saying Hebe will never love him just as she doesn't love his father, with the added bonus that she really doesn't give a fuck about Punk Ass either. Even though she's right, I'm rather upset with her because this made me feel a bit sorry for Punk Ass, and that's a crime that can never be forgiven. This is a great opportunity to point out this movie should have gotten another Razzie consideration for Worst Supporting Actress for Roxanne McKee's Alcmene, she reads ever line either like she didn't get any sleep the night before or is bitter as hell she was unable to get out of her contract before filming began.
We take a break from Hercules to bring you Gladiator, only it's Low Rent Gladiator taking place in an underground fight club since making an arena would be WAY too much work. Hercules and Sotiris are slow motion fighting their way through the ranks, because OF COURSE they are. At 45 minutes in, the movie feels like it's already kicked into autopilot and is just coasting from here on out. We go back to Greece to see Amphy kill Alcmene when she finally tells him the truth behind Hercules' creation, which I guess is supposed to make us hate him more but all I can think is “YES! No more Godawful scenes with her!”.
As time goes on, Hercules and Sotiris try to convince their owner to take them to Greece to fight in Amphy's ancient version of Wrestlemania, where the main event features two men facing six undefeated warriors. The owner agrees to this if they can beat his two best men, which they do with ease even though Sotiris gets injured and will be unable to compete. No matter, Hercules gots this one! Is there even a point to watching the rest of this? Hercules is going to overcome the odds, smite all evil, marry Hebe, and live happily ever after. To it's credit, the film does try to add SOMETHING to this paper thin plot by sneaking around Greece and marshaling support for Hercules, but it's not like anybody cares since ol' Herc is utterly unstoppable. When your character is horribly overpowered, it doesn't exactly create a lot of tension or fear that he might not succeed.
Case in point: he ANNIHILATES the six warriors in under two minutes. This scene was interesting to me for two reasons: one, the complete lack of blood despite all kinds of swords piercing flesh, and two, one of the gladiators was a woman. It's not the fact that she was a woman, because woman gladiators absolutely existed, but instead the fact that Herc DOESN'T kill her despite butchering everyone else. It's like they wanted this film to be the most sterile and staying inside the line experience shot on camera outside of the children's programming offered by PBS. The arena brawl over, Maximus begins to reach out to those still loyal to him in a bid to overthrow Commodus. I think? I'll be honest, I'm starting to get VERY confused as to what movie I'm watching right now.
We get a bunch of set up for the inevitable final battle, including a scene where Hera meets with Herc to... waste a few minutes with pointless exposition. Herc must learn to embrace his true destiny if he's to overthrow his father, even there's no logical reason why he just doesn't march into the palace right now and snap Amphy's neck. Probably because there movie's barely half over and things must be streeeeeeeeeeeeeetched out. Scene after scene of nothing follows until we get one where Amphy meets with Tarak, whom was actually WORKING for the king the entire time. I see... the king is a treacherous asshole who sent Herc on a one way mission to conveniently get him out of the picture, which we ALREADY KNEW. Good God, was this meant to be a kids' movie? Was the target audience seven year olds?!
They wisely cut this scene short before we can start wondering why Tarak sold Herc and Sotiris into slavery if his ONE JOB was to kill them, to show us Sotiris coming home to find his wife dead. Tarak and his crew materialize out of nowhere to surround him, the general taking out his sword and beginning to fuck them up until Punk Ass shows up holding Sotiris' young son hostage. Sotiris ends his onslaught, agreeing to take them to where Herc is hiding in exchange for not killing his son. Hercules is forced to surrender when Punk Ass holds a blade to Hebe's throat, not wanting to risk his beloved getting killed. This was an interesting contrast with Sotiris' previous scene, where he conveyed fear and emotion over Punk Ass' cowardice to us while Herc just stood around looking stupid.
Herc is taken to the public square and LIGHTLY whipped to give us a teensy tiny amount of blood, because no way in hell the movie is going to dirty up that chiseled body of his. Amphy shows up to do the prerequisite shit talking, having Sotiris and Chiron brought out for Punk Ass to kill. We get the shoulder angel and devil mechanic as Herc and Amphy try to sway Punk Ass to their line of thinking, but Herc loses and the future king stabs Chiron. Figuring he has nothing to lose at this point, Herc looks skyward and implores his real father for help, yelling that he believes in him. This grants him super strength, as he breaks free of his chains and turns into Kratos from God of War as he whips his manacles at the soldiers trying to stop him. All the bad guys turn tail and run, the remaining soldiers in the square pledging their loyalty to Herc.
Amphy and his cohorts retreat to their castle while Herc rallies up the troops to storm it. The action is every bit as lifeless and bland as you'd imagine, until we end up with a standoff in the courtyard of Herc's men up against Tarak's forces. Because this would be WAY too much effort to choreograph, Zeus summons lightning to strike Herc's sword and give him a SUPER SWORD that he uses to decimate everyone in his path. This effect is laugh out loud funny and EASILY the highlight of this thing so far, it's so over-the-top cheesy that I couldn't help but love it. If the rest of the movie had been filled with this kind of goofy video game shit then it probably would have been an all-time classic. The fight scene sadly ends too soon, leaving Hercules to square off against Amphy in a duel to the death, echoing how Amphy originally gained his power. Amphy is somehow more than able to hold his own and dominate the battle, because I guess the writers suddenly remembered a hero is supposed to have a credible villain to fight.
Herc is able to battle back and put him into a choke hold, about to finish him when Punk Ass shows up with Hebe in tow. Does this guy have ANY other move than “hold protagonist’s loved one prisoner”?! Hebe, sick and tired of being Damsel in Distress #8,210,005, says “fuck this!” and STABS HERSELF THROUGH THE CHEST to kill Punk Ass. Well, can't say I saw THAT one coming. Amphy uses this distraction to break free, but Herc ends up stabbing him through the chest to end this once and for all. Herc rushes to Hebe's side, thankful to find she's still alive because she missed her heart. Sure, why not, at least it wasn't another “loved one dies in their soul mate's arms” scene. We jump to at least nine months later where Hebe is giving birth to Herc's son, as our final shot is Herc looking up at the sky and smiling.
Cue the credits.
How come I raved about something as generic as Dracula Untold, but was bored into oblivion by this equally generic film, you may be wondering? After all, they are shockingly similar in their premise and plot. A few things, despite being as bloodless as Hercules, Dracula was awesomely violent to the point where you can tell they were really trying to create something unique and stylized. Hercules was such a guy stabbing people with a sword in slow motion, something we haven't already been a billion times over or anything. Two, despite being Death Incarnate itself, Dracula still had weaknesses and thus was a vulnerable hero. Even though I knew he'd triumph over all odds, it still added intrigue to the fight scenes to see HOW we'd overcome said weaknesses.
Third, the special effects weren't very special. 3D has ruined more movies than it's helped, and you'll never find a better example than this one. I would ever go as far as saying Saw: The Final Chapter had better 3D, and that one made my eyes bleed. The CGI... oh God, the CGI. You are SERIOUSLY fucking up if your CGI looks inferior to movies that are twenty plus years old, that is almost an accomplishment unto itself.
Fourth, and most important of all, Dracula was a movie with ACTING. I'm not saying it was the greatest acting of all time, but everyone was treating it like they were in a real movie. Hercules absolutely deserved all the Razzies it was nominated for, it's mind boggling to think someone out there did a worse job than Kellan Lutz and Gaia Weiss. They were SO deadpan and monotone, lacking a single spark of chemistry of emotion. I compared this movie to a video game on several occasions, well I can think of dozens of digital characters that turned in better performances than these two did. Certainly ones that were more lifelike and convincing. The acting extends to everyone else in the film as well with the exception of Liam McIntyre, who was wisely kicked to the side when he started outshining Lutz every time they were on screen together.
This is the bottom of the barrel for movies, as it's so wooden and unoriginal there is nothing to recommend. It's bad, but not “so bad, it's funny” bad. I can barely remember anything I just watched, with the exception of the Lightning Sword because that was just too batshit crazy to not appreciate. Avoid at all costs, this is an hour and a half of your life that you'll NEVER get back.