In an age before the internet, people had nothing but time to throw banquets, wage war, and work on their abs. That ancient, idyllic life is perfectly depicted in the historical hiccup that is The Legend of Hercules. This masterpiece really captures it all. It’s not quite a classical homage, and it’s not exactly a fresh take on the hero’s journey to fame. In this instance, Netflix sums it up perfectly: “He’s tasked with bringing down an evil ruler. But will he fulfill his destiny and still get the girl?” It’s Hercules as you’ve never seen him before; without the many-headed hydra, the sneaking around Hades’ garden, or the Golden Fleece. Just a man, his abs, and magically isolated rain showers.
Trapped in a loveless marriage to a tyrant, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) begs Hera to send her a saviour. Classic Hera welcomes a new opportunity to throw blame at her husband and allows Zeus to impregnate the Queen. After a blustery night in the bedroom and cracks of thunder outside, the deed is invisibly done and Alcmene gives birth to a strapping, healthy boy. Her husband, King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), is suspicious and pissed – but that’s his resting demeanour so nobody bats an eye. Twenty years later and the boy, Hercules (Kellan Lutz), is galloping through the bushes with the princess of Crete, Hebe (Gaia Weiss). Life is pretty good until King Amphitryon betroths his eldest son – not Hercules – to the princess. His royal rational is that only Son A can bind the two nations through matrimony… not Son B who actually loves Hebe and dreams of the many children they could have together. In addition, Amphitryon’s son – not Hercules – is a useless, vicious wimp. Hercules is sad, so the King sends him on campaign to be murdered in the desert. The hired assassins, feeling rebellious, capture their target instead and sell the prince into slavery in the fighting pits. The budding hero has roughly two months to make it out of the pits and back to Greece in order to stop the wedding – oh and to defeat the tyrant he was born to overthrow yada yada.
The Legend of Hercules starts off with inspiration from 300 and a pinch of Titanic. It then shifts to Gladiator, evolves into Spartacus, and rolls into a conclusion that channels Ghostbusters. It’s lucky that Hercules has unmatched strength so that he can stand still and mow down his enemies with a lightsaber whip. It’s not right to blame Kellan Lutz for anything that happens in The Legend of Hercules. The movie was given too big a budget and too little time to spend it wisely. Lutz delivers the lines he is given in a production that oils him up before every scene. Everything – like the magical charm bed in the forest – just falls into place, and the actors either go with it or play dead.
The only thing that could make this mythical Greece more on point is a thick waxing of lazy CGI. Hercules yells “I believe in you!” at the sky and a cyclone nest of lightning swirls in from out of nowhere. It’s like shouting to save Tinkerbell and getting Mary Poppins instead. The actors deliver dead-end lines (“You made me nearly faint with fright!”) behind CGI that looks like an adventure with Zelda. Graphics aside, even the lighting is a little ill-directed, illuminating grand halls at night with fluorescent overhangs and shining spotlights on characters standing in the dark. It’s uncomfortable to put “ancient Greece” and “Hollywood studio” in the same sentence, but… here we are.
While The Legend of Hercules may be advertised as an action/adventure, don’t think it’s lacking the romance. Characters vow to commit suicide for love, actually do commit suicide for love, and take every opportunity to convince future spouses to kill them – for love. All of this drama unfolds in the most pollinated ancient Greece you’ve ever seen. Puffs billow through the air at every possible occasion from funerals, to secret meetings, to storming the castle. They are so distracting that, at one point, the camera struggles to find Hercules in the air fluff. No fabric is immune to a gentle breeze and no summer day is complete without snowflakes.
The biceps are taut, the pecks are pronounced, and the virtuous maiden just had her highlights done. Hercules fights his way to freedom while his slave companion takes the easy road and just walks out. Arrows glisten with computerized light and legendary taxidermists prepare a lion cloak in two hours flat, just for the effect of a dramatic entry. The Legend of Hercules is one of those movies you watch when you’re stuck inside and are debating a nap. It’s not a smooth final product, so I’ll pin it at 3/10 – just because Hercules, the ex-vampire, was decently well-cast.