If someone's New Year's resolution is to see more than 100 new films in 2014, he or she may have a legitimate reason to see "The Legend of Hercules." But even that is a stretch. The film is terrible, and should be avoided.
It's almost been a year since Tom Cruise used "Oblivion" to salute every major science fiction film of the last 40 years. Now "The Legend of Hercules" seems to want to do the same thing for epic gladiator films. Nods to "300," "Gladiator" and even "The Lord of the Rings" show up throughout the film, but in this case, imitation isn’t flattering at all.
The film is pitched as an origin story for the mythic hero. When Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) becomes concerned about her conquest-minded husband’s ambition, she strikes a deal with the gods to bear Zeus a mortal son who will save the kingdom.
As one might imagine, the conquest-minded King (Scott Adkins) is not crazy about this development. After a childhood of neglect, Hercules (Kellan Lutz) pushes his stepdad too far when he gets involved with Hebe (Gaia Weiss), a Princess of Crete, who is betrothed to his half-brother. Before he knows what hit him, Hercules finds himself sold into slavery and fighting for his life.
What follows is a series of badly executed battles fashioned around a plot that smacks of “Gladiator,” only stripped of character development and played on fast forward with enough bare-chested bravado to make the Motion Picture Association of America second-guess its rating standard for male nudity.
Based on all the over-the-top battle action, it's obvious the creators behind "Hercules" were gunning for a movie that would be "totally awesome," but thanks to either a low special effects budget or an accelerated production schedule, the end result is not really awesome at all, in any possible way.
Not that its creators didn't try hard. It would be difficult to come up with a film in recent memory that was more determined to make use of its 3D opportunity. Arrows and spears fly at the camera continually, long tracking shots sweep the viewer through waves of fire, and every 10 minutes viewers get a scene where something like snow or rain or rose petals are floating around everywhere.
There is also a preoccupation with that little trick where slow motion is injected halfway through an action shot for dramatic effect. Only it isn't dramatic. It's repetitive and tedious. A movie like this shouldn’t take itself so seriously, but it does, and the audience is given 90 minutes of unintentional comedy instead.
A lot of this could be offset by a charismatic actor in the lead role. But sadly, Lutz only offers subtle variations on a single expression, best described as "vacuously self-amused." This is the kind of film that Arnold Schwarzenegger would have had a field day with back in the '80s. (And if you count Conan, he did — twice.)
The best news out of all of this is that in true Hollywood tradition, we have another "Hercules" movie coming later this year, and this one will star The Rock (Dwayne Johnson). Thank goodness. It can only go up from here.
"The Legend of Hercules" is rated PG-13 for over-stylized violence, and sexual content that is just explicit enough to be uncomfortable.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.