2014 has been a great year for movies about Ancient Greece. “300: Rise of an Empire” sailed into theatres this past spring, and we saw not one but two Hercules-inspired movies. We can even throw “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” into the pile as it’s based on Greek myths with a modern twist. While we have historical proof in the writings of Herodotus to back up much of 2006’s “300” and its sequel “300: Rise of an Empire,” we must look to mythology for legends regarding Hercules and his Greek counterpart, Heracles. For well over half my life, I have studied mythology and spent nearly 15 years learning and studying Latin and Greek. I’d like to say that gives me a little bit of an idea for what will be the foundation of this review – sadly, however, “The Legend of Hercules” resembles the Herculean myths as much as birds resemble whales. Yes, both are animals. Both eat food. Both have skeletons. But, on the surface, that’s about it.
First, let’s have a little discussion about using Greek and Roman names for movie characters. In the Greek myths, our demigod hero is named Heracles and his name names “glory of Hera,” Hera being the goddess of marriage and women and Heracles’ mother Alcmene intending to honor Hera with that name; in Roman myths, his name is Hercules, and thus the name that basically everyone knows, while the Greek gods’ and goddesses’ names are also more familiar. Back to the myth. See, Hera wasn’t happy about this kid even if his name meant “glory of Hera:” her husband, Zeus, the king of the gods, had an affair with Heracles’ mother, Alcmene (Zeus was always having affairs in mythology), and Hera remained hellbent on torturing Heracles for his entire life. Alcmene, married to Amphitryon, a great warrior, gave birth to twins – one the demigod son of Zeus, the other a mortal son of Amphitryon named Iphicles. Heracles was known for his god-like strength and thwarted most of Hera’s plans to kill him, like when he strangled two serpents in his crib as a baby. When he was an adult, Hera drove him crazy and he killed his wife Megara and their children – afterwards, for penance, he had his Twelve Labors, which he completed for forgiveness. Eventually Heracles was deemed a god and went to live on Mount Olympus with daddy Zeus and was given Hebe (pron. Hee-bee), the goddess of youth, as a wife. And that, in short, is the myth of Heracles. Apparently no one who has ever read a single Greek or Roman myth about Heracles/Hercules was consulted in the making of “The Legend of Hercules.” All someone knew was that this kid was Zeus’ and Alcmene’s and he could be strong. If only someone in Hollywood owned a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology or Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, this movie could have been decent.
“The Legend of Hercules” begins with King Amphitryon of Tires fighting Galenus, the King of Argos. Amphitryon is wearing Spartan-ish gear and we’re supposed to be reminded of how strong the Spartan King Leonidas was when, really, Leonidas would have killed Amphitryon in .2 seconds. Galenus doesn’t really get how to use a sword – just look at this picture and where his hands are on the blade – and is killed pretty quickly. Amphitryon, who is a total jackass, goes to celebrate and tells his wife, Alcmene, that he won Argos for her because she’s obsessed with the gods, just like the people of Argos. He thinks the gods are stupid. Alcmene looks down at her son, Iphicles, and is not happy with Amphitryon’s warmongering ways. Quickly, with her tutor, Chiron (why he isn’t a centaur, I do not know), she rushes to a nearby temple of Hera’s. Alcmene prays to Hera’s statue and offers up a pomegranate, which one of Hera’s oracle’s, Kakia (a name found only through IMDb.com), accepts before Hera takes over the oracle’s body. Really, as this woman plays Hera/Hera’s oracle Kakia throughout the movie, let’s just call her Hera. The goddess begs Alcmene to have another son to end Amphitryon’s wars, but Alcmene doesn’t want another child by Amphitryon. But no! This child’s father will be Zeus, who is lusting after Alcmene. Hera graciously gives her permission for Zeus and Alcmene to have a child that Hera shall know by the name Hercules. So all that mythology about Hera hating Heracles/Hercules? Yeah, bye bye! Also – if Amphitryon is so horrible (and he really is), why doesn’t Zeus just hit him with a lightning bolt and kill him? Wait, that would make sense and take away the villain, so, nope. Alcmene does conceive with Zeus (actual line said by Alcmene to Amphitryon: “Zeus came into my bed and blasted me with his seed to spawn a son to end your reign!”) and gives birth to a boy; Amphitryon, knowing something is going on because he walked in on Zeus and Alcmene (lightning flashes, floating bedsheets, and bull snorts are how Zeus has sex, apparently), and says the child shall be called Alcides, which is actually another names for Hercules, and shall never be equal to his brother Iphicles. After King Jackass – er, Amphyitryon – leaves, she whispers that the baby’s name will be Hercules.
Fast forward twenty years or so, until it looks appropriate for Kellan Lutz to enter as our heroic Hercules – oops, Alcides. Yep, folks, ALCIDES is Lutz’s character’s name and we don’t even get Hercules until the last half of the movie. If you don’t remember or know Kellan Lutz, he was Emmett in the “Twilight” movies. Alcides is in love with Hebe, a princess from Crete, and she loves him. (Remember Hebe? Heracles’ fourth wife and the goddess of youth? Yeah, neither did anyone else.) Iphicles appears and fusses at Alcides for taking Hebe out riding where she could have been hurt. Alcides mocks Iphicles (who is completely mock-worthy and looks like Joaquin Phoenix’ spoiled emperor Commodus from “Gladiator”) and then they meet the Namean Lion out of nowhere. When spears don’t hurt it because the lion’s skin can’t be harmed by anything, Alcides strangles it to death. And that is the lone reference we get to the Twelve Labors, when Heracles/Hercules killed the lion through strength. Maybe because Alcides likes his older brother or Iphicles is a jerk and makes him give it up, Iphicles walks into his father’s hall that night wearing the skin of the Namean lion. So much for skinning it, letting the skin dry, and then fashioning it into a cloak, right? Iphicles mocks Alcides and says he ran away when they saw the lion, then has Amphitryon announce that Iphicles will marry Hebe in four moons. Oh no! Both Alcides and Hebe run out of the hall and try to cross away into another land but are apprehended by Amphitryon’s men first. A day or so later, Alcides is sent away on a military exercise in Heliopolis and is in a company commanded by Sotiris, who ends up becoming his stalwart friend. Amphitryon set up the entire Heliopolois campaign as a ruse to kill Alcides, though, and the military company is destroyed. Only Alcides, with his insane strength, and Sotiris survive; both lie and say that Alcides died among the other men.
Since he can no longer us that name, the former Alcides now goes by Hercules, a name Alcmene said to him before he left. Sotiris and Alcides/Hercules are sold to a slave master – wow, “Gladiator” again! – and must fight to survive. They do, but before they can make it to a great big ol’ Battle Royale in Greece and battle for their freedom, they must defeat two other fighters who have never been defeated, named Half-Face and Humbaba (also called Skrillex’s Extended Family Members). Interestingly, the actor who played Half-Face also played King Galenus. Maybe that’s why he dies so easily. Sotiris is hurt in the face, but Hercules kills both of these poorly costumed fellows. Whoever did the costuming and makeup for this movie should be punished. So that Sotiris can be free, Hercules agrees to take on the six heroes of the Grecian Battle Royale thing. In return, Sotiris, back in Greece, begins to gather men to support Alcides/Hercules in a rebellion against Amphitryon and Iphicles. Meanwhile, time is running out on the love story for Hebe and Alcides! Alcmene and she are devastated that Alcides is “dead” and now Hebe has no chance of being saved from her marriage to Iphicles. Oh, what ever will happen?!
Sotiris is able to convince Alcides’ tutor Chiron and a couple other influential men to listen to his argument that Alcides IS alive as Hercules. They go to the Battle Royale. This is a fantastic view for them, too, as they can easily make a close facial identification as to whether or not this slave is their lost prince.
I’ll give you one guess as to who wins the big ol’ Battle Royale. Meanwhile, let’s look at another costuming fail. The woman who is one of the six unbeaten warriors in the fight has an interesting part of her costume. And what are those? Yes, they are nipples on her breastplate! Make sure to look for those, all you Clooney Batman fans. We know how useful they are in fights.
Sotiris is able to convince Chiron and the others that Hercules is Alcides, and then Hercules begins to win the people over. Amphitryon has sown many seeds of doubt among his people by having that company die in Heliopolis and his lands are guarded by mercenaries and armies for hire rather than his own men. As a result of his helping Alcides, Sotiris’ wife is killed and his son is held hostage against him. Amphitryon and Iphicles are keeping to their palace and know that something bad is going to happen soon. While Alcides remains single-minded that his only purpose in life is to love Hebe, not help the people of his country or take down a corrupt dynasty or anything remotely humanitarian like that, Sotiris has him visit a woman who escapes Argos. Lo and behold, it’s the gorgeous Hera! The gorgeous Hera, who was in a beauty contest against Aphrodite and Athena, which led to the Trojan War. She tells Hercules that there is more to him than loving a woman, but he’s not too happy about that. Still, she tells him that he is Zeus’ son, just as Alcmene said, and Hercules has to do some thinking.
Meanwhile, with his son hostage and Hebe running from the palace to find Alcides, Hercules and his companions are captured by Iphicles. Amphitryon has him brought to a public place and strung up between two pillars, a la Samson from the Bible. He’s whipped and, before his eyes, Chiron is killed. Only then does Hercules finally ask for his godlike powers from Zeus. The rest you can guess – how well will some mortals stand before the most well known Greek demigod and hero who, upon his death, rose to Olympus?
Overall the movie is beyond predictable and a cliché of clichés. It’s like someone saw bits and pieces of “Gladiator,” “Spartacus” (both the TV show and 1960 movie classic), “300,” “300: Rise of an Empire,” and “The Bible” miniseries, then spent two minutes Googling the name Hercules. Dwayne Johnson completely rocked (pun intended) the role of Hercules in his summer movie “Hercules.” He WAS Hercules and we all know how strong he is in real life. That just added to it. That script was also great, unlike what this tripe is. While I’m sure some fans love seeing Kellan Lutz shirtless for nearly the whole movie, the concept of Hercules is beyond skewed. I would tell you to watch Disney’s version of Hercules as it’s more accurate and better animates (no pun) this famous figure of mythology, and its cast of characters are great (Rip Torn as Zeus? James Woods as Hades? Come on – it doesn’t get better than that!). Or go find Kevin Sorbo as Hercules on Netflix or Amazon or somewhere. At least Hera was a bitch to him! And, even though it’s a modern twist on myths, the Percy Jackson series at least gets the mythology straight! But this “legend” of “Hercules” is a thinly veiled excuse of a bad, bad made for TV movie. There’s no real feel good moment, Amphitryon isn’t used well enough as a villain, Iphicles dies in the most pathetic way (you’ll be going WHAT THE HELL?!?! too when it happens), Hercules or Alcides or whoever isn’t anything like the mythological figure, Kellan Lutz just doesn’t make it as an action figure, and there is no real redeeming moment for anyone in this. The special effects of “300” are overused – the slow down of action, the sharp camera angle – and become annoying within a few minutes. I’m going to quote Screen Rant on this: “‘The Legend of Hercules’ feels like a glorified Syfy movie that lacks the cheekiness necessary to make the whole experience a so-bad-it’s-good B-movie viewing.”
“The Legend of Hercules” was a big flop. It gained $61.3 million in box office sales on a budget of $70 million dollars. IMDb ranks the movie at 4.2/10 stars. Metacritic give it 22/100 with audiences ranking it at 1.9/10. And Rotten Tomatoes, in for the kill, gave the movie 3%, saying, “Cheap-looking, poorly acted, and dull, The Legend of Hercules is neither fun enough to qualify as an action movie nor absorbing enough to work on a dramatic level.” Only 35% of audiences on RottenTomatoes.com liked the film. To spin a quote from George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows: “This movie is as useless as nipples on a breastplate.”
VL Vanderveer is a graduate of East Tennessee State University’s Department of Literature and Language. Aside from her blogging for HBOWatch.com, she can be found in the Marketing department of InnLink Central Reservations Services.