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Movie Review: Hercules (2014)

herculesrocky

Let’s get something straight. This is Hercules starring The Rock, not The Legend of Hercules, the wannabe effort starring Twilight alumnus Kellan Lutz. The Legend of Hercules, released at the beginning of the year, was an appetizer: the cast was B-grade, the budget was relatively small (US$70 million) for “blockbuster standards,” and the overall effort felt underwhelming. Directed by Renny Harlin (of Die Hard 2 fame), it’s not anywhere near as bad as its Rotten Tomatoes 3% rating suggests, but everyone knew it would pale in comparison to the main course: the Brett Ratner version with The Rock in the titular role.

True to predictions, Hercules is a vastly superior film to The Legend of Hercules. That said, the two are very different movies in that apart from the name of the central protagonist, everything else is completely different.

The Legend of Hercules is a typical origins story that depicts Hercules’ life from conception to birth to rise. It’s a typical Hollywood endeavor that follows a straight, predictable line all the way through just like you’d expect.

Hercules, on the other hand, turned out to be unlike what I anticipated. When I saw the trailer, I had expected the film to follow a similar trajectory to The Legend of Hercules, just with a better lead actor, bigger budget, and skilled execution of both drama and action. When I actually saw the film, I realised how misleading the trailers were. Strangely, the Hercules in this film is much more grounded in reality. He does have amazing strength and skill as a soldier, but it leaves the truth of his legendary feats up in the air. Did they really happen, are they blatant exaggerations, or are they completely made up to fuel his reputation? The film lets us draw our own conclusions on these questions, and even asks whether it really matters.

And the film has a whole lot of fun too. The trailers made the film look like a straight-shooter, but it is actually full of wisecracks and tongue-in-cheek jokes. Everything about it surprised me. It was not what I thought it would be, and yet it was the right way — probably the best way — to go about making a film on the legendary demi-god.

The story, based on Hercules: The Thracian Wars from Radical Comics, begins when Hercules is already a legend leading a band of mercenaries that includes a prophet (Ian McShane), a feral warrior (Askel Hennie), a knife-throwing thief (Rufus Sewell), and Amazonia archer (Nicole Kidman lookalike Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), and his nephew/propaganda chief Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). Legend has it that Hercules, who has already completed the Twelve Labors, is the son of Zeus, and it’s a legend that served the mercenaries well in getting a new job from Lord Cotys (John Hurt), who wants them to train the Thracian armies to defeat the warlord Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann).

I don’t mean to shit on anyone, but The Rock is a much better Hercules than pretty-boy Lutz, who may look more like the traditional Disney version but is so wooden he might as well be portraying Annabelle (the demonic doll). And I like Lutz a lot. I think he’s a humble, hardworking guy doing his best.

The Rock makes Hercules flesh and blood, and uses his charisma to turn the demi-god into a likable protagonist who is more self-aware than he should be. I liked the idea of him having a loyal team to support him so that he has people he cares about and fights for, and luckily for the film, each of the team members are developed sufficiently so we know who they are and how to distinguish them.

The action scenes are done well, with the right amount of special effects, though they do fall short of the epic scales of other battle films in recent years. The Rock’s presence always makes fight scenes more explosive than they otherwise would be, but on the whole the film failed to deliver anything we haven’t already seen on battlefields before.

Hercules falls well short of the classic I had been hoping for because it fails to excel in either the action, drama or plot. That said, it is solid in all those respects and does not take itself too seriously, allowing The Rock to take care the rest by carrying the film on his insanely buffed shoulders. A breezy popcorn movie that’s never as good as it should be, but good enough for a fun time. It’s not a must-see by any means, but it’s the no-brainer pick if you plan on seeing only one Hercules flick this year.

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Legend of Hercules (2014)

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First of all, The Legend of Hercules is the Hercules movie starring Twilight beefcake Kellan Lutz, not the yet-to-be-released one with The Rock. Secondly, despite everything you’ve heard about it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. Its 3% rating on Rotten Tomatoes is misleading because it means only 3 out of 100 critics thought it was a good movie, not that the average rating of the movie is 3 out of 100 (or 0.15 stars out of 5). In truth, The Legend of Hercules is just terribly average and lacking in originality, and likely inferior to that other Hercules movie. But it’s not THAT bad. Really.

Where do I start? In ancient Greece, of course. King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins from The Expendables 2) is the king of the world, but he’s also a selfish, warmongering dude who’s extremely villainous. His estranged wife prays for guidance and “boom”, she’s doing the naughty with Zeus, who is apparently a wham-bam-thank-you-mam kinda fellow. The result is a baby who would grow up to become Hercules (Kellan Lutz).

I’ll stop there, but essentially Hercules is the story of a prophecised half-man, half-god pretty boy who has to find the strength within himself to take on the evil regime of his adopted father and wimpy half-brother while finding time to woo a pretty blonde lady played by Gaia Weiss. Without giving too much away, the film is part Gladiator, part The Passion of the Christ, part Braveheart and part Thor — in that order.

That’s one of the biggest problems with The Legend of Hercules — it feels derivative and lacking in passion. It borrows liberally and shamelessly without putting its own twist or stamp on things. The pedestrian script doesn’t do the film any favours either, but despite the Herculean efforts of director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger) the film can’t quite shake its “cash-grabbing” vibe.

The film was made for US$70 million, which is a relatively small budget for a “blockbuster” like this. And it shows. From the weak special effects (like the bizarrely fake-looking lion) to the overall look of the sets and its visual texture, The Legend of Hercules is lacklustre all over.

To be fair, however, I did enjoy some of the action sequences in the film, both in and out of the gladiator arena. They were well choreographed and occasionally exciting, and it helps that Scott Adkins is a professional martial artist who knows what he’s doing. The scenes of Kellan Lutz doing his best impersonation of Kratos from God of War were fun too.

Speaking of Kellan Lutz, aka “charisma vortex”, it seems more than plausible that he’s the biggest reason the film has been a worldwide flop. He seems like a nice guy and a fine physical specimen who looks like he just jumped straight out of an Abercrombie & Fitch print ad, but it might come as a shock to many of you that he CAN’T ACT.  He has two facial expressions — blank, for when he doesn’t need to do anything, and an ape-like grimace for every other emotional expression. He’s basically the opposite of Daniel Day-Lewis.

I don’t profess to be an expert at judging male aesthetics, but Lutz is also one weird looking dude. There are some angles where he appears conventionally handsome and others where his face looks like an orangutan stuffed into a glass cube. The orange fake tan doesn’t help either.

Still, he’s an upgrade over Liam Garrigan, who plays Hercules’ half-brother Iphicles. Garrigan, I’m sure, is a good-looking man in real life, but here he sports a haircut that makes Tom Hanks’ rug in The Da Vinci Code look like a masterpiece. With a hairstyle like that you might as well have stuck a sign on his head that says “wimpy, gutless, jealous older brother with inferior complex who will die and no one will care.”

Anyway, as much as I have shit all over it, The Legend of Hercules is not THAT bad. For all its flaws, the fight scenes are solid and it’s only a merciful 99 minutes long. If you treat the bad script, bad dialogue, bad haircuts and Kellan Lutz’s performance as comedy, it’s actually not an unentertaining movie.

2.25 stars out of 5