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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In case you spent your night yelling and sputtering in front of your TV, don't worry, you're not alone. So far this season, The Vampire Diaries has pulled out all the stops and managed to surprise me at every turn. In just last night's episode alone we got a history lesson set in ancient Greece, unlocked a very hungry Stefan, and learned some more doppelgänger stuff that will (probably) ruin the long awaited Delena relationship (yes, I'm crying too). Here are the highlights of TVD's third episode "Original Sin."
Stefan resurfaces: The first, but weirdly not most important, event that happened last night was the unearthing of Stefan from the bottom of the lake (river, quarry?). Sheriff Forbes had her deputies bring the safe out and called Damon and Elena to come open it. But instead of finding Stefan, they unlock it to find a dead man that Stefan fed on... which, let's be honest, we can't exactly blame him for, as he was starving down there for three months. As Damon and Elena realize he is on the run and probably hurting people (is his humanity switch on or off!?), they look for ways to find him, but can't figure out where he would go.
Elena dreams of Stefan: The next morning, in the Salavtore house, Elena shoots out of bed after having a vivid dream of Stefan walking out of a bar and into the sunlight where he instantly shoots into flames. Damon, who is a bit annoyed with his girlfriend's continuing dreams of her ex, is forced to agree that they should look for the bar after Katherine walks into the room claiming to have had the same dream. Katherine, of course, manages to piss off Elena when she claims that the only reason they are having these dreams is because they both love Stefan (gasp!). She's also joining them on their 'search for Stefan' roadtrip.
The Matt/Nadia/Silas/Katherine debacle: We then cut to Silas who has a chat with Nadia where he asks her to prove her loyalty by making sure Matt Donovan is actually dead. But Nadia has her own agenda, and when she catches up with Matt she somehow summons Gregor through Matt's body, and says she will figure out a way to keep him around permanently. Oh, and she also apologizes for killing him, saying she needed Silas's trust for her plan to get Katherine (a plan that we still don't fully understand).
The Qetsiyah reveal: Now comes the scene full of shockers. When we next see Stefan, he is in a house with a beautiful mystery woman who explains that she saved him from the sun, as well as unlocking him from the safe. She then gives Stefan a brief history lesson on his doppelgänger Silas, and his human(ish) life in ancient Greece. There was once a time where Silas was just a traveler (not really sure what these guys are yet) who convinced another traveler, Qetsiyah, that he was in love with her and she should create an immortality spell so they can live together forever. BUT, it's later revealed that Qetsiyah wasn't his true love, and he just manipulated her so he could use the potion for himself and his love, the handmaiden, Amara.... A.K.A. the original Petrova doppelgänger! (Got that? Amara is the original Elena and Silas is the original Stefan). The betrayed and angry Quetsiyah then creates the cure in order to get revenge and kill Amara. She also creates a cure for Silas that, when he takes it, won't kill him, but would instead trap him in limbo with Qetsiyah for eternity (Obviously, this didn't happen. Silas is a stubborn b***ard, I'll give him that). And finally.... it's revealed that the mystery woman telling the story is actually Qetsiyah! She came back after Bonnie lowered the veil so she could finish the plan she started 2,000 years ago. Side note: she calls herself Tessa now because Qetsiyah is just too "old-timey" (and too hard to type).
A spell and a destiny speech: At the bar that Damon, Katherine and Elena finally find, the trio is digging for answers about Stefan when Nadia enters and has a little tiff with Katherine that forces the group to split up. Katherine and Elena run to the woods where Nadia eventually snags Katherine and drags her to the car. However, an angry Silas shows up and compels the deceitful Nadia to point the gun at herself. But, just before he forces her to shoot herself, Silas crumbles to the ground holding his head in pain. We then flash to Damon, who has found Stefan bound to a chair, where Tessa is doing some witchy spell that will combine Silas and Stefan's minds so that she can take away Silas's ability to mind control everyone. When Tessa is done, Silas's brain is fried… but it looks like Stefan's is too. Afterwards, Tessa reveals to Damon that she has been watching doppelgängers for 2,000 years and destiny always forces them together, basically telling Damon that he has no hope with Elena.
The cliffhanger (because TVD always has a cliffhanger): In the final five minutes we get two huge shockers and one adorable Damon declaration. The first bombshell is revealed when the now average vampire Silas talks with Nadia and they both come to the conclusion that they want the same thing: Katherine. Why? Because Katherine's blood is the cure! Without giving us a moment to take that in, we shoot back to the Salvatore house where Damon and Elena are waiting for Stefan to wake up from his witch induced slumber. While Elena watches him, she asks Damon what Tessa said to him. Damon explains that the universe is against them and that destiny will basically ruin their relationship, but that he would not let destiny keep him away "because you (Elena) are my life." Aw, Damon! But, before the two could kiss it out, Stefan wakes up, effectively ruining the moment. As Damon and Elena welcome him back, he apologizes and says "I have no idea who you people are." Fade out.
Um, wait, what!? These story lines just keep getting crazier and crazier, but I'm loving it! This episode changed my mind about a lot of things. For one, it made me like Silas a little bit - I mean, all he really wanted was eternity with his true love. And Damon has come such a long way, don't you think? He's now willing to fight for Elena, even if it means going up against the universe and/or the new and rebooted Stefan. Of course I have about a million more questions, like will Tessa stick around and finish off Silas? Will Katherine's blood be able to turn more than one person human? Is Nadia going to turn Matt into Gregor (please, no!)? And finally, will Stefan and Elena fall back in love now that their messy history is no longer remembered? Guess we'll just have to tune in next week to get our answers (and probably some more questions).
The Vampire Diaries is on the CW Thursdays at 8 PM ET.
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It's rare that a sequel trumps the original but The Expendables 2 manages to do just that with a steady stream of one-liners and welcome weathered faces as well as a few new ingredients. E2 seems even more self-aware of its own silliness especially with Jean-Claude Van Damme as the villain (named Vilain of course) and Chuck Norris and Arnold Schwarzenegger popping up in smaller roles alongside previous Expendables Sylvester Stallone Jason Statham Jet Li Dolph Lundgren Bruce Willis Terry Crews and Randy Couture.
Then again The Expendables wasn't any sort of action classic; it was like writer/director/star Stallone threw a whole bunch of ideas at the wall to see which would stick then added massive amounts of weapons and the occasional hand-to-hand combat. It was popular but it definitely not the kind of awesome actioner that the stars were able to make 10 or 20 years ago. There's the rub actually; like women actors who have written or directed their own projects because nothing else was available or satisfactory Stallone created The Expendables because Hollywood didn't seem to know what to do with him and his fellow action stars as they got older. It's easy to criticize Stallone et al for not doing the same amount of stunt work or hand-to-hand fighting that for example Statham is capable of but the whole thrust of the movie is that they're expendable -- to themselves to the world and until Stallone kickstarted these movies to Hollywood.
E2 is still clumsy but it's a little more adventurous and a little more introspective. Two new additions to the crew seem to throw everyone for a loop in one way or another. Liam Hemsworth shows up as Bill the Kid a sniper who left the military after a raid in Afghanistan went horribly wrong; his age and hopefulness not to mention physical prowess is a foil the Sylvester Stallone's Barney Ross and one that Barney is well aware of. Nan Yu joins the team as Maggie who is apparently the only person who can disarm the safe that holds whatever secret thing Church (Willis) has sent them to retrieve. And if the Expendables don't get her back alive Church will make them pay because even though Maggie is some sort of multilingual computer genius with a vicious roundhouse she's a lady. On one hand perhaps we're supposed to gather that this group of old dogs is learning new tricks by having to deal with a smart capable woman in their midst; the attempts Gunner (Lundgren) makes to flirt with her are clunky and goofy and she's obviously way too smart for fall for that claptrap. On the other when she whips out some instruments of torture Barney cracks "What are you going to do give them a pedicure?" And of course her role also devolves into an incredibly stilted and unbelievable romantic interest for Barney. One point for trying but two points deducted for falling into the romantic interest trap.
At times it's hard to tell whether or not we're laughing with the crew or at them. Plus because of how jam-packed the cast is some actors get the short end of the stick. Statham is the most charismatic of the bunch and he also has the most impressive hand-to-hand fight scenes but the emphasis in E2 is sheer firepower so he doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Couture is fairly forgettable while Lundgren plays the lunkiest of lunkheads; the running joke is that he has a chemical engineering degree from MIT and was a Fulbright Scholar which is supposed to be funny... except it's also true. (We're to assume he's mended his evil ways between the first Expendables and the second.) Is Lundgren agreeably poking fun at himself the same way Schwarzenegger hams it up at every turn? Or does E2 have shades of JCVD which stars Van Damme was a washed-up action star? Are the emotional moments supposed to fall so hilariously flat on purpose? For some reason it seems important to tease out which parts of these movies are earnest and which are tongue-in-cheek.
There's a weird melancholy about watching this group of aging action stars that has the same tang as watching someone you love grow older especially as they try so very hard to fight the ravages of time. If you dig a little deeper maybe deeper than E2 warrants you could find a well of sadness below the back-slapping antics. The world has changed and even though Stallone and his crew have muscles so hard and juicy they could pop out of their skin like grapes they can't compete with Bill the Kid and Maggie and others like them. They know it and we know it and while it's good fun to see old friends or onscreen enemies kill scores of bad guys (led by JCVD sporting a truly horrible fake Baphomet-style neck tattoo) there are better smarter more exciting and more interesting action films on the horizon.
And there's also The Expendables 3.