As if people needed any more reason to lament the lack of originality in Hollywood, it seems like every year there are at least two dueling movies about the exact same thing. Last year, it was terrorist attacks on the White House, and two years ago, it was Snow White. The trend continues in 2014 with Hercules, pitting Renny Harlin’s brawn-over-brains film about the Greek hero against the Dwayne Johnson summer vehicle directed by Brett Ratner. Though Ratner’s involvement will no doubt irk film geeks who’ve made it their life mission to attack the director-for-hire any chance they get, it’s hard to imagine that his movie will be even remotely as terrible as “The Legend of Hercules,” although that’s not much of a challenge.
For starters, this rendition – a sort of origin story about Greek mythology’s most famous demigod – stars the emotionless Kellan Lutz as the title character. Raised by King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) as his own son despite suspicions that he was sired by someone else, Hercules is in fact the product of an unintentionally hilarious one night stand between Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) and Zeus. When Hercules’ true love, Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss), is arranged to marry his weaker and whinier older brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), Amphitryon sends Hercules off to war in the hopes that he’ll be killed. But despite being captured and sold into slavery, Hercules uses his skills in the gladiator ring to win back his freedom and return to Greece, where he leads an army against Amphitryon to reclaim the kingdom.
There are plenty of moments in “The Legend of Hercules” that could be singled out as to where Harlin got it all wrong, but its fate was sealed long before production, when the film’s writers (four to be exact, including Harlin himself) decided to ignore everything about Hercules’ mythological adventures in favor of making a generic sword-and-sandals movie. It’s essentially a mish-mash of every likeminded film that’s preceded it, with a story that hews dangerously close to “Gladiator” and a visual style ripped straight from Zack Snyder’s “300.” Harlin takes the overcranked, slo-mo camera tricks to the extreme, even using the gimmick for close-up shots of his actors’ faces for no apparent reason. The 3D is also pretty annoying, especially when every other scene is blanketed in confetti and pollen. Who knew that Party City was so popular in Ancient Greece?
Unfortunately, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the film’s almost impressive display of awfulness. If there were any reservations about just how bad of an actor Kellan Lutz really is, “The Legend of Hercules” more than confirms it. They might as well have brought back Kevin Sorbo for the role if this was the best they could do, because the “Twilight” actor has very little to offer apart from his Herculean physique and penchant for grunting. The rest of the cast doesn’t fare much better (you might as well throw Scott Adkins and Liam Garrigan’s names into the Razzie nomination pool now), save for Liam McIntyre of “Spartacus” fame, whose competent performance only makes the other actors look even worse by comparison.
The dialogue is laughably bad at times, and there are some really cheesy special effects that wouldn’t feel out of place in the original “Clash of the Titans,” but the action sequences at least make the movie somewhat watchable, even if it’s a surprisingly bloodless affair. However, it doesn’t change the fact that “The Legend of Hercules” is shallow and uninspired in just about every other way. The film is reminiscent of one of those Asylum-produced B-movies that are designed to cash in on upcoming Hollywood blockbusters. (Though they likely have their own Hercules project in the works). It’s obviously not that bad, but it’s a lot closer than you might think.