Summit via Everett Collection
You can imagine that Renny Harlin, director and one quadrant of the writing team for The Legend of Hercules, began his pitch as such: We'll start with a war, because lots of these things start with wars. It feels like this was the principal maxim behind a good deal of the creative choices in this latest update of the Ancient Greek myth. There are always horse riding scenes. There are generally arena battles. There are CGI lions, when you can afford 'em. Oh, and you've got to have a romantic couple canoodling at the base of a waterfall. Weaving them all together cohesively would be a waste of time — just let the common threads take form in a remarkably shouldered Kellan Lutz and action sequences that transubstantiate abjectly to and fro slow-motion.
But pervading through Lutz's shirtless smirks and accent continuity that calls envy from Johnny Depp's Alice in Wonderland performance is the obtrusive lack of thought that went into this picture. A proverbial grab bag of "the basics" of the classic epic genre, The Legend of Hercules boasts familiarity over originality. So much so that the filmmakers didn't stop at Hercules mythology... they barely started with it, in fact. There's more Jesus Christ in the character than there is the Ancient Greek demigod, with no lack of Gladiator to keep things moreover relevant. But even more outrageous than the void of imagination in the construct of Hercules' world is its script — a piece so comically dim, thin, and idiotic that you will laugh. So we can't exactly say this is a totally joyless time at the movies.
Summit via Everett Collection
Surrounding Hercules, a character whose arc takes him from being a nice enough strong dude to a nice enough strong dude who kills people and finally owns up to his fate — "Okay, fine, yes, I guess I'm a god" — are a legion of characters whose makeup and motivations are instituted in their opening scenes and never change thereafter. His de facto stepdad, the teeth-baring King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins), despises the boy for being a living tribute to his supernatural cuckolding; his half-brother Iphicles (Liam Garrigan) is the archetypical scheming, neutered, jealous brother figure right down to the facial scar. The dialogue this family of mongoloids tosses around is stunningly brainless, ditto their character beats. Hercules can't understand how a mystical stranger knows his identity, even though he just moments ago exited a packed coliseum chanting his name. Iphicles defies villainy and menace when he threatens his betrothed Hebe (Gaia Weiss), long in love with Hercules, with the terrible fate of "accepting [him] and loving [their] children equally!" And the dad... jeez, that guy must really be proud of his teeth.
With no artistic feat successfully accomplished (or even braved, really) by this movie, we can at the very least call it inoffensive. There is nothing in The Legend of Hercules with which to take issue beyond its dismal intellect, and in a genre especially prone to regressive activity, this is a noteworthy triumph. But you might not have enough energy by the end to award The Legend of Hercules with this superlative. Either because you'll have laughed yourself into a coma at the film's idiocy, or because you'll have lost all strength trying to fend it off.
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From Russian filmmaker Sergei Bodrov Mongol tries to correct the story of Genghis Khan as presented in previous Hollywood disasters like The Conqueror and Genghis Khan. This fascinating look at Khan’s early years begins with his birth as Temudgin in 1162. The story methodically follows him from his harrowing and dangerous childhood all the way to the infamous battles that defined him. Bodrov’s portrait is also a love story covering Khan’s family life and marriage to Borte the only woman who truly understood him and knew what he could become. One of the film’s most successful sequences involves the abduction of Borte. Temudgin’s desperate and ultimately brave rescue is a spectacular action sequence in which he penetrates the enemies’ camp with thousands of horsemen. Eventually he is set on a path to seal his destiny against his own blood brother Jamukha. It’s a conflict that results in Temudgin’s slavery but eventual freedom to become Genghis Khan--the man who conquered more territory than any other warrior. Cast not with an eye for stars this telling of the Genghis Khan story has credibility going for it. Previous Hollywood versions have made the mistake of bringing in known actors such as Omar Sharif to play the role--and most notoriously John Wayne famously butchered interpretation of Khan in 1956’s The Conqueror. But in Mongol after a worldwide search Bodrov smartly cast Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano as the adult Temudgin who makes Khan his own. As his blood brother Jamukha Chinese actor Honglei Sun acquits himself well while inspiration of inspirations a real Mongolian actress named Khulan Chuluun makes for a beautiful and forceful Borte. The international flavor of the cast oddly seems to actually add authenticity to the production when logic would say otherwise. Perhaps that is the ultimate tribute to director Bodrov. Sergei Bodrov is a powerhouse director. His previous films--including the acclaimed Prisoner of the Mountains and Nomad--do not prepare us for the breathtaking splendor and scope of Mongol. This is absolutely the kind of sweeping epic we might have expected from David Lean in his Lawrence of Arabia heyday. Even though the director did employ some CGI tricks for the massive battle scenes the mix of technology and humanity is flawless. Key to his success is the human dimension of a larger-than-life story that keeps us involved with characters who are truly heroic and the stuff of mythology. Special mention should go to the magnificent cinematography of Sergey Trofimov and Rogier Stoffers on a par with anything seen on the widescreen in many years. Tuomas Kantelinen’s inventive score is another plus for the impressive film.