There has been a long-standing tradition in Hollywood regarding what are known as “Sword and Sandal” films. Generally, it’s the more old-fashioned entries in this genre that receive all the glory, such as “Ben-Hur” or “Spartacus,” though there have been some that have made a splash in more recent years (“Gladiator,” “300”). However, as you can probably imagine, there are also a fair share of “Sword and Sandal” films that don’t turn out nearly as well. Just this year alone, we’ve already had Paul W.S. Anderson’s silly action-spectacle “Pompeii,” a not-quite-recommendable film, though there was some fun to be had with it as a guilty pleasure, and Renny Harlin’s “The Legend of Hercules,” which pretty much defines “Sword and Sandal” gone wrong.
Harlin’s film tells the story of how Hercules (Kellan Lutz), the son of Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee) and Zeus, falls in love with Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss). When she becomes promised to his older brother, Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), they try to run away together, but are caught. This results in King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) sending him off to fight in Egypt under Captain Sotiris (Liam McIntyre). After an ambush leaves nearly all of the troops dead, Hercules and Sotiris find themselves fighting for their lives as slaves who are forced to participate in gladiatorial combat. Having made a promise to return to Hebe before she is forced to wed his brother, Hercules does what he must to survive and fulfill his vow.
“The Legend of Hercules” is as generic as you can get for a film of this genre. It basically features only a thread of a storyline that’s just enough so that the filmmakers can have a foundation on which to throw in as many monotonous battles as possible. From the very opening frames, which feature some of the cheapest-looking visual effects put to screen, you know you’re going to be in for something sub-par. Of course, with a film like this, you don’t expect any kind of character development, but what you do expect is to be able to have a little fun with the premise. However, this is just one of many elements missing from Harlin’s disastrous bloodbath. If you don’t find yourself bored silly from having to sit through battle after battle, the dull storyline and the flat characters will easily take care of that. In short, there’s nothing here to engage the viewer or make them care one iota about what’s occurring on the screen, making it no wonder that this got dumped into theaters in the middle of January.
“The Legend of Hercules” is presented in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The general look of the film is dark and dreary (making me cringe at the thought of how bad the 3D version would look), but the picture always remains perfectly sharp. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is loud and clear, allowing you to hear every little sound of every single battle throughout. Overall, both areas give you an optimal experience.
Audio Commentary with Director Renny Harlin and Kellan Lutz: This is one of those commentaries where the participants focus on the actors and how “great” they were. Also, Harlin feels the need to point out all the CGI in every scene for some reason, as though the audience can’t easily tell already. Basically there’s nothing to be learned from this track, so it’s an easy skip.
The Making of The Legend of Hercules: A shallow look behind the scenes of the film that runs about 15 minutes. The cast and crew describe various elements of the film, such as horse-riding, fighting, weapons, and the costumes. It’s not a terrible featurette, but it doesn’t really tell you very much.
“The Legend of Hercules” was an ill-conceived film from the very beginning. With barely any story to speak of and an overabundance of battle sequences, it should have been incredibly obvious that the focus was in the wrong place. Even if Harlin and co. just wanted to make a mindless action flick, it still comes off as too dull and monotonous to provide any kind of entertainment value. A decent balance needs to be struck between story and action for a film like this to work. It just goes to show that when action is allowed to take over, disaster is almost always the imminent result.
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