Director Renny Harlin made Die Hard 2: Die Harder. That alone thoroughly proves that Harlin could orchestrate grand, ridiculous action, while still getting good performances and telling a solid, if goofy story in an engaging manner. Starting around 2000, after a string of bombs, the Cliffhanger director laid low for awhile. The Legend Of Hercules is probably his biggest film since then; it’s also such a colossal failure on every front, especially in the action department, that I am unsure this is the same Renny Harlin. Is an evil doppelganger to blame? Probably not, but it’s a fun thought!
The worst mistake is in the casting of Kellan Lutz as the titular demigod, especially when you already secured the amazing Scott Adkins in your film! Lutz – be he smiling serenely at his lady love, taking lashes as punishment, fighting in a gladiatorial arena, or doing anything else – perpetually looks like a complete doofus. No matter what emotion the scene calls for – love or lust = a goofy grin, showing his teeth; grief over a loved one’s death = open mouth crying, showing his teeth; determination = clenched teeth showing. As if showing his teeth was all the acting this former model knows how to do. Actually, that wouldn’t surprise me, as his line readings are worse. Effecting a monotone, which I suppose is meant to convey seriousness, only makes him sound a thousand percent disinterested in and bored by everything going on.
Just as bad, but in fewer scenes, is Liam Garrigan as older brother Iphicles. When he’s meant to sound intimidating, he nasally whines. When he’s sad, he nasally whines. This strategy fails to make him sound menacing, just goofy as hell. Liam McIntyre, as Captain Sotris, is as bland as eating paint chips, but way worse for your health. I am not sure he’d recognize an action scene if John McClane, Rambo, and Rocky were to roll up to him in a tank. Roxanne McKee is the desperate queen to whom Hercules is born, and if McIntyre is human prozac, she’s like a caffeine injection straight to the brain- all hysterics, all the time. Seemingly incapable of playing the actual emotion of the scene, she overacts everything. This means that the actual big moments have no luster or impact.
Gaia Weiss as love interest Hebe isn’t too bad. Her scenes are the only ones that I almost felt an emotional connection to, so props to her; especially given how one dimensional her character is. But, it’s b-movie action star extraordinaire Scott Adkins who steals every scene he’s in. Adkins proved his bad assitude in such action fare as Universal Soldier: Day Of Reckoning, in which he has a nude fight against ten guys (or so), with long takes so we know it’s him, and Expendables 2 and 3. He doesn’t disappoint here. His action beats are the most believable, and his line deliveries make sense within their scenes’ context. Playing villainous King Amphitryon, who betrays Hercules out of spite and jealousy, he’s over-the-top, but in a psychopathic, terrifying, real world (-ish) kind of way.
Here, the goddess Hera blesses the union of Zeus and the human queen for reasons that make no sense to me. Then Hercules is sent off to war, where he is ambushed and captured as a slave. Then he is sold into gladiatorial combat, wins his freedom, and becomes a folk hero. Please don’t ask about the latter, since I am still baffled as to how that happens. Even more confusing is Hercules’ humanity, or lack thereof. He might as well be one of the X-Men for all the superpowers that he possesses, but even they have weaknesses. Super strength makes sense and, to a certain degree, so does the imperviousness to weapons, but what about a Wolverine style healing factor? Not really. Super speed? Again, not so much. But Hercules does have these powers.
Arriving eight years after 300, and seven years after aping that style was considered a viable option, this 2014 release felt dated immediately upon arrival. Not even the sequel to 300, also released in 2014, was this much of a ripoff. Speed ramping takes place whenever, all willy-nilly like, especially at the most awkward moments. One of the first scenes between Hercules and Hebe involves them sneaking off for some alone time to a serene lagoon, replete with waterfall. Hercules shows off by climbing the cliff and diving backwards. The speed ramping here feels forced as hell, but it’s what takes the scene from stupid bad to OMG, hilarious bad! For the sake of whatever sanity I may still retain, I’m quite happy with all the ludicrous speed ramping, as it the dumbest, most amusing part of the film.
Not helping matters is the weird digitally corrected colors and awful, cringe inducing CGI. Each and every movie those low budget SyFy mainstays The Asylum have released this year have had more convincing and realistic effects. During the aforementioned waterfall scene, the green screen used on Lutz is so sloppily keyed that he appears constantly floating above the rocks and cliff. The whole film was color corrected to make only the base colors really show up – a sort of Sin City inspired look, only with a larger color wheel. Unlike that masterpiece though, here it just makes everything look drab, dreary, and dull. This is one of the ugliest films in recent memory- garish and murky should never be the nicest things I can say about any movie’s cinematography, but such is the case here.
All this would be forgivable – or at least more tolerable – if the action was competently shot and edited. But, would I be writing this if that were the case? Of course not! As mentioned the speed ramping is all over the place, but instead of doing all of the motion in one smooth take, the scenes are edited, making the transitions from slow to normal to faster speeds awkward, as it’s impossible to know where everyone is. In a close up, the grabbing of a sword is slowed, only to cut to a wide shot that’s normal speed, meaning Hercules and the slave he’s fighting (in an underground fight) are quicker than when we last saw them, essentially putting them further ahead of us in time. All the action scenes are this odd and hard to follow. But, the movie grows quite the set of balls and moves into Ferringo absurd territory near the end, where Zeus turns Hercules’ sword into a lightning whip.
I believe that bears repeating. Zeus turns Hercules’ sword into a freaking lightning whip! That is one of the coolest things I never knew I wanted to see! The film is so laughably terrible, then this happens and one can see the stamp of “camp cult classic” just magically form upon the motion picture. Despite all the (admittedly) hardcore action, the movie is fairly tame (a 300 clone with myths), so such an epic moment of coolness is not only a welcome addition, it also enlivens the movie with a whole new energy.
Laughably bad acting? Check. Bumbling direction? Check. Bad CGI? Check. Worse editing? Check. Howls of laughter? Double check. A great drunk time with friends? Triple check!