Film Review: ‘The Legend of Hercules’

The first of 2014's dueling 'Hercules' pics to cross the finish line is a camp throwback with an inverse ratio of brains to brawn.


Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Liam McIntyre, Liam Garrigan, Johnathon Schaech, Roxanne McKee, Gaia Weiss, Rade Serbedzija.

A towering figure of Greek mythology, the half-human, half-god strong man Hercules has always been something of a schlock icon where movies are concerned, from the wave of Italian-made, sword-and-sandal cheapies that broke upon these shores in the 1950s and 60s to their 1980s Cannon Films derivants starring Lou Ferrigno. The song remains very much the same for “The Legend of Hercules,” the first of two dueling 2014 tentpoles to reach theaters, and every inch the one that might have been commissioned by the late impresario Alexander Salkind in his “Santa Claus: The Movie” period. Costly in price ($75 million) but totally kitsch in execution, from its wooden dialogue to its low-rent international cast and its very CG-looking CGI, “Legend” is ideal fodder for undiscriminating 12-year-old boys on a lazy weekend afternoon, though even they may opt to wait for the Rock in MGM/Paramount’s Brett Ratner-directed “Hercules,” due in July.

As with last summer’s Beltway demolition derby of “Olympus Has Fallen” and “White House Down,” the canny B-movie magnate Avi Lerner (who produced through his Millennium Films banner) is once again betting that the early bird will catch the box office worm. But lacking “Olympus’” star wattage and facing stiff competition from Christmas season holdovers, “Legend” will be hard-pressed to match its predecessor’s commercial heft. Still, the movie is not without its incidental pleasures — chiefly, a 90-minute running time (sans credits) that alone makes it preferable to the bloated spectacle of “47 Ronin.”

Back at the helm of a large-scale action picture for the first time since his Sylvester Stallone auto-racing turkey “Driven” in 2001, Renny Harlin kicks things off with a thunderous battle scene in which hordes of CG warriors under the command of the Tirynthean King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) storm the gates of neighboring Argos circa 1200 B.C., 3D arrows raining down on the audience in old-fashioned, comin’-at-ya style. But while Amphitryon is an undisputed victor on the battlefield, we soon see that things haven’t been kosher for a while between him and his beleaguered wife, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), who longs for peace in their war-torn land.

Having exhausted all other options, she prays to the goddess Hera for help and receives a surprising response: It seems that Hera’s s.o., Zeus, has always coveted Alcmene from afar, and if Alcmene agrees to let him sire her child, that boy, Hercules, will lead his people to salvation. (Lurking around the edges of these early scenes is Rade Serbedzija as the queen’s Gandalf-like mentor, Chiron.)

This leads to a conception scene that resembles a cross between an expensive perfume ad and an exorcism — all thunder, lightning and billowing curtains — which probably explains why Amphitryon suspects something foul from the start and vows to always treat this bastard son, whom he christens Alcides, as inferior to his firstborn, Iphicles. The pic then flashes forward 20 years, where we find the bronzed and bulgingly muscular Alcides (Kellan Lutz) in love with the Cretan princess Hebe (the blankly beautiful Gaia Weiss) and openly loathed by both Amphitryon and Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), who fancies Hebe for himself. So the king and his heir apparent plot to rid Alcides from the picture by sending him off to war — and certain death — in Egypt.

If “The Legend of Hercules” takes most of its visual cues from “300” and the “Lord of the Rings” series (albeit without anywhere near the same level of seamless craftsmanship), it borrows most of its narrative beats from “Gladiator,” following Alcides/Hercules on his journey into the bowels of slavery, his discovery of his true parentage and god-like abilities, and his return home to confront his betrayers. Along the way, the movie happens upon its two most engaging episodes — one, a close-quarters ambush in an Egyptian cave that leaves Hercules and fellow soldier Sotiris (Liam McIntyre) the only survivors, the other a Sicily-set gladiatorial bout in which Hercules squares off against a giant mutant known fittingly as Half Face. Both serve as reminders that Harlin can still execute a solid action sequence, with an attention to perspective and spatial continuity that many of his contemporaries lack, even if he’s a bit too fond of freeze-frames and slow-motion that threaten to trun every fight scene into its own instant replay.

But “Hercules” sinks into torpor whenever something other than hand-to-hand combat takes centerstage. As he demonstrated in the “Twilight” series, Lutz’s acting muscles aren’t nearly as well developed as his pectorals and deltoids, and while the role may not call for a master thespian, it at least begs someone who can emote without looking like he’s straining to execute a deadlift. Relative newcomer McIntyre, who assumed the lead role in “Spartacus” on TV from the late Andy Whitfield, gives by far the most affecting and nuanced turn here as a man driven to extraordinary lengths by the hope of someday reuniting with his family.

Shot in Bulgaria (where Millennium now has its own studio), “Legend” isn’t as distractingly cheap looking as other Lerner productions, with decent set and costume work, though the CGI is always more high-end videogame than anything approaching photorealism. Sam McCurdy’s 3D camerawork is mostly effective, but was marred at the screening reviewed by the conspicuous dimness that afflicts so much 3D projection.

Film Review: 'The Legend of Hercules'

Reviewed at the Grove, Los Angeles, Jan. 9, 2014. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 MIN.


A Lionsgate release of a Summit Entertainment/Millennium Films presentation of a Nu Boyana production. Produced by Danny Lerner, Les Weldon, Boaz Davidson, Renny Harlin. Co-producers, Gisella Marengo, Nikki Stanghetti, Jonathan Yunger. Executive producers, Avi Lerner, Trevor Short, John Thompson. Co-executive producer, Lonnie Ramati.


Directed by Renny Harlin. Screenplay, Sean Hood, Daniel Giat. Camera (color, widescreen, 3D), Sam McCurdy; editor, Vincent Tabaillon; music, Tuomas Kantelinen; production designer, Luca Tranchino; art directors, Sonya Savova, Ivan Ranghelov, Alexey Karagiaur; set decorator, Valya Mladenova; set designers, Alessandro Troso, Adriano Giombini, Yosif Mladenov; costume designer, Sonu Mishra; sound (Datasat/Dolby Digital), Vladimir Kaloyanov; sound designer, Trevor Gates; supervising sound editor, Jonathan Miller; supervising re-recording mixer, Jonathan Wales; re-recording mixers, Richard Kitting, Jason Gaya; visual effects supervisors, Nikolay Gachev, Stanislav Dragiev; visual effects producer, Scott Coulter; visual effects, Worldwide FX, Digiscope, Factory VFX, Ghost VFX, Hydraulx, Identity FX, Prime Focus VFX, Reliance Mediaworks, the Resistance VFX, Rhythm & Hues Studios, Basilic Fly Studio; special effects supervisor, Pini Klavir; stunt coordinators, Rowley Irlam, Diyan Hristov; assistant director, Mary Ellen Woods; Bulgaria assistant director, Petya Evtimova; second unit director, Isaac Florentine; second unit camera, Ross Clarkson; casting, Kate Dowd.


Kellan Lutz, Scott Adkins, Liam McIntyre, Liam Garrigan, Johnathon Schaech, Roxanne McKee, Gaia Weiss, Rade Serbedzija.

More Film

  • BAFTA headquarters at 195 Piccadilly, London

    BAFTA Undertakes Major Renovation of Its London Headquarters

    BAFTA has undertaken a major renovation of its London headquarters that will double the building’s capacity and increase space devoted to the British academy’s programs to promote skills training and new talent. Work has already begun on the $31 million overhaul, which is expected to take two years. In the interim, BAFTA will relocate its [...]

  • Andhadhun

    Booming Digital Lifts Eros Indian Film Distribution Giant

    Eros International, India’s largest and most controversial film distributor, says that its digital revenues now outstrip conventional theatrical and syndication revenues. Its Eros Now streaming platform claims 18.8 million paying subscribers. The New York-listed company reported annual results that were distorted by multiple adjustments to presentation. Reported revenues in the year to end of March [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Second Huayi Brothers Film Is Canceled as Company's Losses Mount

    Still reeling from the cancellation of the theatrical release of its blockbuster “The Eight Hundred,” production studio Huayi Brothers has been hit with another setback: Its comedy “The Last Wish” has also been quietly pulled from China’s summer lineup. Both films have fallen afoul of China’s increasingly heavy-handed censors. The unwelcome development comes as Huayi [...]

  • Sean AstinCritics' Choice Awards, Arrivals, Los

    Film News Roundup: Sean Astin Cast in 'Mayfields Game,' 'Charming the Hearts of Men'

    In today’s film news roundup, Sean Astin gets two roles, two “Peanuts” movies are set for release, “One Last Night” gets distribution and Brian De Palma gets honored. CASTINGS Sean Astin has been cast in a pair of upcoming feature films: “Mayfield’s Game” opposite Mira Sorvino and “Charming The Hearts of Men” opposite Kelsey Grammer. Astin [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content