Midway through The Legend of Hercules a wide-eyed, enraptured follower wanting to believe asks the immovable slab of marble masquerading as a protagonist why he should follow him into an arena of gladiators and certain death. “Imagine your family; follow me, and I will bring you back to them,” Hercules mumbles with all the conviction of a Mythology 101 reading of the classics. Yet this true believer, as well as the audience, knows it will be so. And never once will Hercules, nor the film named after him, give you any reason to doubt the fulfillment of that promise or any other preconceived notion attached to a January release of demigods and special effects. You can more than guess this story, but it’s not necessarily the one in the title. As one of the most popular ancient myths of Western culture, Hercules (or Heracles) has made for an enduring cinematic subject over the decades. Whether it’s Kevin Sorbo or Disney, there is always room for more variations on the son of Zeus who performed 12 mighty labors and slaughtered his wife and kids made for an appealing brand name. Indeed, the rather grisly origins of the character are often shrouded in favor of the romantic hero who through strength and occasional intelligence is able to outmaneuver Hera, Hades, Ares, or whatever god is the subject of fear this week. But the demigod of The Legend of Herculesis not quite those things. Nay, he is very much the careful fruition of a finely tuned formula that is determined to regurgitate passing trends. Consider that while this Hercules (Kellan Lutz) is the offspring of Zeus and mere mortal Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), it is not a labor of supernatural deed that he must undertake, but one of Kubrickian superstardom. Yes, in this version, Hercules is forced to go full-Spartacuson his enemies after his “father” King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) decides that the kid really doesn’t look a whole lot like him, sending Zeus’ unwanted gift on a suicide mission that results in Hercules having to fight for his freedom in the gladiatorial pits of Sicily. Also, there is the kidnapped Princess Hebe of Crete (Gaia Weiss) that Hercules is in love with and some such, but the point is that this is the Hercules who will fight an armada of speed-ramping foes through rain, sludge or lightning bolt—where he honestly holds an exceedingly unfair advantage.
As his mortal semi-caretakers, Adkins and McKee are more than apt for lapping this banal material. Adkins is a rising action star with a cult following due to his smooth martial arts moves in films like The Bourne Ultimatum and The Expendables 2 (plus as a SEAL in Zero Dark Thirty). And while his Evil King is literally that and nothing else (he took the kingdom in blood from the people), his snarling and hissing at least livens things between stilted set-pieces. Meanwhile McKee is tasked with the most herculean challenge of the cast: convincing audiences that she is Hercules’ mother when there is only a few years difference between the actors. Truthfully, she was probably cast because she played the slave who taught Daenerys “Khaleesi” Targaryen Dothraki etiquette, as well as a little bi-curiosity, in Game of Thrones. And if you get that reference, you are directly who The Legend of Hercules is targeting. The sword and sandal epics are back. Kind of. A decade after Troy and Alexander ruined the fun in the sun for everyone, smaller budgeted TV fare about ages of heroes and gods has been doing not-so-ungodly business on premium cable. And The Legend of Herculeshas emptied the slavers pit to find its participants in this burgeoning niche. Positing to be a PG-13 iteration of Starz’s Spartacus on the big screen, the film even picks up the second Spartacus from that series, Liam McIntyre, to play the buddy who will follow Hercules into easy victory after easy victory. McIntyre is also a welcome presence, because after delivering his fair share of St. Crispin Day speeches on the blood soaked fields of blue screens, he manages to inject some fleeting fun into the film, though he’s ultimately rebuffed by the hollow center in Lutz’s statuesque physique. Despite looking more than fit enough to play the divinely beefy hero, Lutz’s Hercules is still a shapeless entity from beginning to end with less life in him than the walking corpse he portrayed in the Twilight films. He wanders from one set-piece to another, staged by director Renny Harlin with all the warmth of a daughterly Electra. But in some ways it is the fault of neither. With four writers credited alone on this screenplay, it is clear this was meshed together from the blood and sweat of other, meatier materials, even if this PG-13 flick is a strangely gutless affair for a movie about perpetual slow motion gladiator fights. Ultimately, The Legend of Herculesis exactly what one might expect from this kind of approach to the material. Fans of such cheese will know if it’s the right brand for them, but be aware that this is more Steve Reeves than Kirk Douglas.Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek.