Recently I was a guest on the Adkins Undisputed podcast and the subject of the episode was THE LEGEND OF HERCULES, the 2014 movie in which Scott Adkins plays the villain. Somehow I had never gotten around to seeing it, despite knowing about Adkins’ participation, and that it was directed by Renny Harlin (between DEVIL’S PASS and SKIPTRACE, but I haven’t seen those either), and that I tend to go to these F.S.G. (Fantasy Sword Guy) movies and at least somewhat enjoy them. For example I saw the other Hercules movie starring The Rock that came out the same year. I didn’t understand why they made it a world where there was no magic, and I still liked it.
This is the Hercules played by Kellan Lutz, who you may know as one of the young guys in THE EXPENDABLES 3, if not from TWILIGHT. He also starred in a DTV action movie I reviewed called ARENA. And it looks like he played William Shatner in Michael Almereyda’s EXPERIMENTER? His thing is I guess he’s a uniquely babyfaced burly guy. He looks young and doesn’t try to macho up with a beard or something but is also very, like… wide-headed. I guess he’s tall, but he always looks to me like a comics-Wolverine, Ram Man type guy.
Adkins plays King Amphitryon, who in the prologue conquers the kingdom of Argos by challenging and defeating their king (Dimiter Doichinov, IN HELL) in a duel. It’s a cool fight as far as these types of movies go, where Amphitryon arrogantly puts his sword in the ground to face the king’s sword unarmed.
But Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee, WRONG TURN 5: BLOODLINES) is totally bummed about it, she has given up on her hope of bringing “tenderness” to her husband, so she prays to Hera (actress not credited?), and Hera appears to her and is like ‘No prob, I give my husband Zeus permission to stick it in you in order to impregnate you with a half human son that will be a savior your to your people. You’re welcome.’
This leads to the funniest part of the movie, when the king is laughing and strutting into the bedroom holding hands with a mistress but discovers the queen in the throes of ecstasy from a magic invisible lightning god. He storms around angrily yelling about finding “the intruder” who intruded into his wife, like he just missed the guy. Does he think it was a ninja?
Of course she then has a baby and the King says he’s named Alcides and when he walks out of the room the Queen is like, “Psyche, it’s ‘Hercules’.” The King kinda gets what the deal is and states upfront upon birth that he will never love this kid like he loves his older brother Prince Iphicles (Liam Garrigan, King Arthur in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT and on the show Once Upon a Time, but here a snively, weaselly, ultra-weiner designed to invoke no sympathy or respect of any kind at any point in the movie).
As a 20-year-old, so-called-Alcides is in love with Princess Hebe of Crete (Gaia Weiss, Vikings). His unusual strength and cliff-diving abilities have not tipped him off that he’s half-demigod. He also has a supernatural ability to be forgiving of his douchebag brother. For example, the two of them run into an adorably goofy CG lion that their spears bounce off of, and Iphicles whines about how it’s impossible to kill while Hercules wrestles it to death. Then they go home and Iphicles not only wears the lion fur and claims credit but makes the story all about how only he believed it could be done. Hercules just sits there and lets him do it.
(This scene has another good Adkins moment when he sees the fur – one of the most famous parts of the Hercules legend – and says, “What is that thing? Take it off!” in disgust.)
Anyway, being a great dad and leader, the King announces that Iphicles will be marrying Alcides’ girlfriend, while Alcides will be sent off to fight a war in Egypt. Congrats everybody!
The Queen tells Alcides he’s actually Hercules, but he thinks she’s full of shit. Meanwhile, he tries to figure out how to wrap this war shit up and get back home in time to stop the wedding. One thing he doesn’t know is that he’s being set up by the King. His company is ambushed and only he and Captain Sotiris (Liam McIntyre, Spartacus #2 on that Spartacus show) survive. I gotta say, I absolutely did not recognize Johnathon Schaech in black cornrows as the Egyptian bad guy (no comment) hired to kill them, and it took me a while to put together even after I saw his name on the credits and wondered who he played. This is the movie where Adkins told Schaech he’d auditioned for his part in ROAD HOUSE 2 and Schaech told him they should’ve given it to him.
Alcides hides from Tarak that he’s the prince they’re looking for and he and Sotiris are sold into gladiatorial slavery. I like that it’s not the same outdoor arena setting we normally see, but a pathetic mud pit more like an UNDISPUTED movie.
Those two turn out to be good at the ol’ gladiating, and they scheme to get home by convincing the fight promoter (Stefan Shterev, THE MECHANIK) to enter them in a tournament in Greece. The fights didn’t excite me too much, but they have some colorful opponents, including Spencer Wilding (GREEN STREET 3, the monster in VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN, Darth Vader in ROGUE ONE) as a guy called “Humbaba.”
Back at home, everybody thinks Alcides is dead. There’s a scene I found kinda funny where Iphicles comes to his mom to ask for advice because he realizes this woman he’s about to marry hates his guts and is not too keen on being forced to live a miserable life as his slave. At first Mom goes into Mom Mode and tries to be nice about it, but when he mentions her being happy with her arranged marriage with his dad she blurts out that it has been a loveless marriage from the beginning and basically she hates that motherfucker. I mean she is absolutely in the right, and this kid sucks, but this goes beyond “not sugarcoating it” to “savagely dropping the hammer” on her son while he’s at his most vulnerable.
Of course, he makes it hard to feel sorry for him when he does stuff like wake up Hebe with his face right next to hers and crazily yelling that they will have many children and she will love them all equally. I got a kick out of the contrast of this despicable character and Hercules out there asking his guys if they would be able to get his brother on the team.
There’s a team now, because he does escape from the fighting circuit, travels the land now using his true name, becoming a folk hero by helping people and dabbling a little in his demigod powers. We get the famous thing where he uses his strength to break the chains, and a cool thing is that the other ends of the chains are attached to large chunks of rock that he swings around as weapons.
(By the way, this is one of those obviously-released-in-3D movies. The opening battle sequence seems like it would’ve looked cool in that format.)
Though this is not the type of movie you should watch only for Scott Adkins, it’s a better “hey I got a role in a studio movie” situation than many of the ones he’s had in other (often better) movies. It’s an entertaining asshole performance, even if it could use more humor. And I was wondering how he was gonna age 20 years after the opening and it turned out to be through the medium of aggressively manly beard growth.
His climactic duel with Hercules is also pretty good for this sort of thing – it’s in no way what you love to see out of Boyka, but it’s cool to see Adkins get to do this armor-wearing-muscleman-stomping-around-swinging-a-heavy-sword style of fighting. He looks huge and powerful. Harlin, ever-susceptible to trends, does a bunch of 300-style speed-ramping, but I don’t mind. (The opening also mimics the 300 look, I think, but the rest is mostly filmed on location and looks totally different.)
Lutz is fine as Hercules. Not “wow, who is this guy?” at all, but also not the type of bland dead weight that kills a movie like this. That’s something. He gets to make a BRAVEHEART type speech, and at the end he stands on a wall overlooking the city and it reminded me of the end of Tim Burton’s BATMAN. So overall it was an okay time.
The script is credited to Sean Hood (HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, CUBE 2: HYPERCUBE, THE CROW: WICKED PRAYER, CONAN THE BARBARIAN) and Daniel Giat (BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE). Based on their filmographies I’m guessing Giat wrote it years ago and Hood was hired to rewrite it after he did CONAN, but that’s speculation.
Harlin’s Hercules beat The Rock and Brett Ratner’s to theaters by half a year, but that didn’t help. It has a 5% on Rotten Tomatoes and did not make back its budget at the box office. Sorry I didn’t pitch in, guys. I don’t think I would’ve been hugely disappointed had I paid to see a matinee of this like I did with KING ARTHUR: LEGEND OF THE SWORD, HERCULES, GODS OF EGYPT, ROBIN HOOD, etc. But I don’t think I liked it as much as any of those. It’s a little too down the middle. I prefer more weirdness and/or absurdity than we get here. And Harlin usually delivers on that.