Director Renny Harlin was once Hollywood’s pre-eminent hack, so it’s almost nostalgic to see him helming a film that probably only exists because Brett Ratner and The Rock have a Hercules movie coming out this summer. It’s also mildly disconcerting. Regardless of how bad his The Legend of Hercules is — there is a certain professionalism to Harlin’s hackiness, and he does a lot of things right that many current directors often flub. The action scenes are mostly coherent and not a jumble of cuts and spastic camera movement, and he understands the importance of set dressing and atmosphere.
Now that I’ve gotten the high points out of the way, I can mention that the rest of Legend of Hercules is pretty much garbage. This is, after all, a film where our demigod with a heart of gold, the legendary Hercules, is played by a dopey, emotionless mound of hairless muscle — Kellan Lutz of Twilight fame. The word fame is relative here; he’s probably only the fourth most famous shirtless guy to come out of the Twilight franchise. This is an actor who has gone on the record saying he drew inspiration for his performance from The Passion of the Christ (2004), so you can be assured that he and his abs took this all very seriously.
The theoretical idea behind The Legend of Hercules is to tell the story of the rise of a powerful half-man, half-god — from the son of a king, to enslaved gladiator and back again. In reality, the movie exists to trick people into thinking it is the next 300 (2006), which is clearly this film’s biggest influence. Hercules lifts a lot of 300’s visual style and crams in plenty of slow-motion sword fights and similarly unfortunate haircuts. Despite some parallels, Hercules remains pretty bloodless and never quite has the guts to go for 300‘s R-rating. What’s left is a chintzy sword-and-sandals tale with a little bit of mythology thrown in.
For a $70 million production, the movie looks surprisingly cheap — I’m talking production values akin to a mid-’90s CD-ROM game cut scene. Harlin seems to have blown most of the budget on smoke machines, and the forests are all sufficiently fog-swept — all the better to lend gravitas to Lutz’s fits of mouthbreathing. Harlin and company at least have the sense to keep the movie under the 100-minute mark, though that’s still about 100 minutes too long. Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense combat action and violence, and for some sensuality.