The Legend of Hercules
I was greeted with mixed emotions when I heard ‘Legend of Hercules’ was to be released soon and made available for review. There has been a flood of sword and sandal action flicks of late with a dominating number boasting the new technological darling, Real 3D. This movie was scheduled to follow the with a 3D deluxe edition offering on drop day so I was curious about how the most well-known strongman in Greco-Roman mythology would be treated with the illusion of depth added. The cause of the conflicted feelings over this particular house in the 3D historical epic race is I admittedly have a soft spot for Hercules movies. The first movie I remember my father taking me to see ‘Hercules Unchained’ featuring Steve Reeves in the titular role. Back in1959 going to the movies were a special event with a massive battle scene staged above the marquee and life size cardboard cutouts throughout the lobby towering over you on the way to the seating, passing the candy counter. Movies were an event and to go there with your fatter was a lasting memory. I watched the same flick year later and realized it was a cheap Italian import intendant as a low cost draw for small movie owners. Still somehow the magic a small boy marveled at remained. Like some many movies featuring Hercules this was ultimately weak. Even the third dimension could not brace up the lack of cohesive story. Now you don’t have to do anything special just wander into the nearest room setup with the proper audio/video equipment, normally about a meter from your current GPS confirmed location, and start watching. All factors taken into account both flicks are means to past time with a modicum of entertainment but at least fifty five years ago there was a touch of pageantry associated with the presentation. If the film lacks the steak at least give us a little bit of sizzle.
Set in a segment of space time suitable for a sword and sandals epic, ancient Greece Two powerful kings, Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) and Galenus (Dimiter Doichinov) stand before their respective armies facing off across the proposed field battle. Each contingent is massive and well matched so that the result is likely to be a pyrrhic victory. No matter which side claims the day both sides will suffer grievous losses. King Amphitryon devises a means to preserve honor and not annihilate the best fighting men of their nations. The men with fight against each other, one on one; the winner claims the army and kingdom of the loser. Amphitryon readily trounces his opponent only to be visited that night by his alienated wife, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee). His claim that the victory was for her was quickly denounced by starting his only motivation was the gold and power he personally gained. Revolted by his aggressive manner prays for guidance to the King of the gods, Zeus, who assures the mortal queen. When Amphitryon discovers this meeting he mistaking thinks his wife has taken a man as a lover. Later Alcmene gives birth to a son she names Alcides but is actually the demi god Hercules.
Little time is wasted is the intervening twenty years but soon Hercules/Alcides is a strapping young man who has fallen in love with the beautiful princess of Crete, Hebe (Gaia Weiss). Alcides ‘older brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) also loves Hebe adding to the bitter rival between the brothers. When Iphicles stumbled across the pair it results in Hebe fleeing. A search party is formed including Alcides and Iphicles. During the search the two young men are attacked by a lion that Alcides kills with his beat hands crushing it to death, Iphicles quickly grabs the trophy and the credit for the amazing feat. Adding fuel to the already significant hatred between the two Iphicles not only hails himself the hero he brands Alcides a coward publically. Hebe, knowing both men is not inclined to believe the outlandish claims of Alcides’ big brother. Later at a banquet an argument erupts with Hebe almost drowning. Ultimately Hebe is betrothed to Iphicles and Alcides is dispatched to an assignment in Egypt. Just before he is to ship out his mother come to him and reveals his true lineage, Hercules, son of Zeus.
The next act of the story is the exploits of Alcides in Egypt and the circumstances heading him to assume the name and achieve the legendary valor and strength still associated with it today. Betrayed and sold into slavery Hercules and his friend Sotiris (Liam McIntyre) are forced to fight other slaves to the death. Eventually their reputations as undefeated leads them to be included in high stakes gladiatorial games in Greece. The intrigue and mistaken identity clouds the interaction of the characters as Alcmene is murdered and Hebe lead to believe Alcides is dead. A human incarnation of Hera prophecies about Hercules ‘destiny preparing him for the trial he is about to face, that he will emerge with his own kingdom and family.
In most ways this is an example of the classic hero’s journey. For a detailed and scholarly treatment of this most ancient of tropes check out ‘The Power of Myth’ by Professor Joseph Campbell. It has been hailed as directly influential for such modern mythologies as ‘Star Wars’ by delineating the commonality of the heroic archetype across every human culture. The hero is initially unaware of his true lineage and ultimate destiny. What is required is forging in the crucible of seemingly unsurmountable hardship to bring out his true inner hero. Even though the story follows this classic template the execution is weak and falls short of coming close to its potential. The movie eschewed the opportunity to follow the inner character development forced upon Alcides as he sheds that person to emerge as Hercules. Instead the movie unfolds as one segment after another targeted to keeping the special effects crews gainfully employed and providing some incentive for the 3D camera operators to test the limits of what their new toys can do. It serves as a reasonable popcorn flick for the adventure fans in the family with sufficient romantic influence for those with a need for relationship drama. The use of 3D is gimmicky and in your face but considering the targeted effect of the movie fully within its production parameters.