Starring Kellan Lutz, Gaia Weiss, Scott Adkins, Roxanne McKee, Liam Garrigan, Liam McIntyre, Rade Serbedzija, Johnathon Schaech, Luke Newberry, Kenneth Cranham, Mariah Gale, Sarai Givaty
Directed by Renny Harlin
Expectations: Super low. I just want swords, sandals, and fun.
On the general scale:
On the B-movie scale:
The Legend of Hercules has a fairly bad reputation, even for a film that’s only been out for a few months. The score on Rotten Tomatoes score is 3% for God’s sake! So leave it to me to make it something of a priority to watch it, and then to enjoy it thoroughly. Don’t mistake that for me being blind to the film’s bad qualities — oh, did I ever notice them! — but the film entertained in spite of this. It’s really subjective, though, so I don’t recommend hastily running out in your loincloth to rent the film, but know that there is the possibility that you might find something to enjoy here. I guess that makes me part of the 3%, which is in no way related to the American elitist assholes who make up the 1%. I promise.
So in the face of the huge wall of adversity coming at this movie, I thought that if I reviewed it I shouldn’t waste any time on why it’s bad. I’m sure within the 97% there are plenty of critical diatribes describing exactly why The Legend of Hercules is a horrible blight on the world that is so horrendously bad it actually sucks other things into its strange, cinematic black hole. So there’s no point in rehashing these points. I will say that I don’t think the movie is anywhere near bad enough to warrant such hate, but I understand why. Director Renny Harlin has definitely been in better form than aping Zack Snyder’s ugly, unnecessary slo-mo that filled 300, while also trying to appeal to the Twilight crowd with a tender love story and star Kellan Lutz. Did I like these aspects? Of course not, but I knew they would be there and I expected them, so I was able to let them roll off my back as confidently as the film’s actors delivered their historically inaccurate, “Any American movie set in the past is made better by phony English accents” English accents.
On the list of things I did like, the first that comes to mind is the CG Nemean lion which Hercules fights bare-handed and eventually strangles to death. The lion itself is very obviously CG — they aren’t fooling anybody! — but it’s of enough quality to be convincing. Especially when Herc is strangling the poor thing. You can tell he’s strangling something else — perhaps the screenwriter? — but it’s this realistic yet obviously fake quality that actually made me like it. It instantly made me think of how stop-motion FX work integrates with live-action footage. No one, even when those stop-motion films were new, believed the stop-motion creatures to be real, live animals, yet through movie magic they achieved life and contributed to our shared cinematic fantasy. The Nemean lion here has exactly this sort of imagination-sparking quality. In today’s digital world where CG is judged solely on how real it looks, something like this is bound to elicit laughs and bad press, but I found it kind of endearing. I’m sure this was unintentional, but it affected me in this way nonetheless.[At this point I sat and stared at the screen for a good while.]
OK, so naturally this next paragraph should be where I relate another thing I liked about The Legend of Hercules, but I’m honestly having a hard time remembering another thing that I liked enough to warrant mentioning. After pondering what I should write about, I realized that this in itself was something that I really liked about The Legend of Hercules. I can already hear the collective “HUH?” of the Internet. Well, the older I get the more I realize that I have a shit-ton of useless memories floating around in my brain. How much does a person really need to remember from Operation Dumbo Drop? Yet, here I am, close to 20 years later remembering specific scenes. I just don’t have room in my brain for that kind of stuff anymore. So my thanks to the screenwriters of The Legend of Hercules for crafting a film that requires barely a thread of mental space!
And on a similar point, I’d also like to commend them for combining elements and tropes from many previous sword and sandal films so that I also didn’t have to think too much while watching. Oh, Hercules is getting sold off into a gladiator slave camp, just like ALMOST EVERY OTHER ABLE-BODIED MAN EVER PORTRAYED IN A SWORD AND SANDAL FILM?… Right on! I love gladiator slave camps, I already know all their rules, now let’s get to the fight-to-the-death battles! Oh, and this fight-to-the-death battle is on rocky pillars above a huge pit… OK! See, tropes can be fun, too, critics!
The last thing I liked about The Legend of Hercules is how the end builds up to this huge battle between a pair of armies, but then — probably because the budget couldn’t support such a thing — the movie takes a hard left, gives Hercules a rad lightning sword, and he dispatches with the entire enemy army with a few good swings. I know Herc is a god and everything, but I really didn’t see this coming. The movie previously only hinted at and skirted around outright supernatural goings-on, and I often wished that they had committed and went full-on gods and monsters mode. In this lightning sword, I got my wish. And when the lightning kind of reminded me of the look of ’80s practical effect lightning (which is one of my favorite things about ’80s movies), it was a great gravy-filled cherry on top.
I don’t know that I’ve done a very good job of explaining why I liked The Legend of Hercules, and honestly I’m not entirely sure why its faults didn’t bother me more. All I can say is that I only expected to be entertained, and entertained I was… so if you’re feeling daring and you’re not in a critical mood, then flip the bird to the 3% at Rotten Tomatoes and give this one a go!