The Legend of Hercules is what you might expect the CW network to come up with if it was asked to produce a made-for-TV sword and sandal movie. “Hercules” (I can only put the name in quotes, as the character is so far from the figure of either Greek mythology or any cinematic portrayal I’ve seen before) is an Aryan pretty boy with bulging muscles and a devoted love interest for whom he would go to the ends of the earth. He has been raised as the son of King Amphitryon, a cruel tyrant who rules over ancient Greece. However his true father is Zeus, who conceived him with Queen Alcmene so that “Hercules” could grow up to bring an end to Amphitryon’s cruel reign. The king suspects that “Hercules” is the product of Alcmene’s liaison with another man (not realizing the other man is Zeus himself), and therefore treats “Hercules” with contempt while favoring their older son Iphicles as the true heir. Amphitryon arranges for Iphicles to marry Hebe, princess of Crete and true love of “Hercules.” In order to remove any obstacles to the wedding “Hercules” is sent away on a suicide mission, presumably never to return. However, this gorgeous hunk of manhood will not be so easily separated from his true ladylove, and he is determined to fight his way back to Greece, and back into Hebe’s arms, no matter the obstacle.
As you can probably tell from my summary, I am annoyed at this film’s insistence on recasting the figure of Hercules as some sort of romantic teenage heartthrob. Hercules, to me, is a somewhat more cheerful version of Conan. He’s all muscle, all machismo, and probably more brawn than brain. He may have love interests, but he’s not a romantic character and turning him into one is clearly driven by studio financial concerns rather than any real creative license.
So that aside, how is the movie? Honestly, it’s so rare that straightforward sword and sandal films get theatrical releases these days, I really wanted to forgive this movie its flaws and just enjoy it for what it was.
Once upon a time, American theaters were flooded with Hercules, Samson, Goliath, and Maciste films imported from Italy during the late 1950s-mid 1960s. This sort of storytelling represents a time-honored genre deserving of a reboot with modern casting and modern special effects. Even if it comes off as silly to the sensibilities of modern audiences, I for one am quite willing to turn off my brain and just enjoy the cheesy fun of muscular sword-swinging heroes fighting pirates, wizards, dragons, and various assortments of creatures from ancient Greek mythology (I’m speaking of the genre, incidentally, as these elements are largely lacking from this particular movie). Since it’s so easy for modern audiences to look down on this sort of storytelling, I really wanted to give it every chance to just be enjoyed for what it is and not pick it apart for every inconsistency and lack of attention to character development.
To a degree I was able to successfully do that with this movie. Despite the second rate CGI, I really enjoyed the opening battle sequence and a number of the film’s action sequences. As things would come up that seemed silly or inconsistent, I would remind myself to just sit back and enjoy it for what it is. Just enjoy the big muscular guy who can strangle a lion but then be knocked out by a simple blow to the head; just enjoy the battle sequences where the protagonist is continually knocked to the ground in a low-level gladiator pit but can later take on six of the greatest fighters in Greece single-handed. Unfortunately, after an hour or so of such inconsistencies and excuses, I simply found myself drifting off until finally… I just fell asleep.
OK, I really wanted to take this movie for what it was and just turn my brain off and enjoy it despite its flaws. However, it turned out to be more of a challenge than I was up to. I simply wasn’t able to get through this whole film with my eyes open. It literally put me to sleep. Maybe if I’d made it through to the end I would have been rewarded by some fantastic sequence that would have changed the whole experience around for me. From what I saw, though, this film is just too generic and contrived to really be engaging.