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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Based on the novel Q&A this sharp adaptation tells the tale of a young man Jamal Palik (Dev Patel) who becomes a contestant on the Indian version of the hit game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and ends up being accused of cheating. As we see him beaten into admitting that he “knew” the answers the film darts back and forth in time to show how he came to this place and exactly where the truth lies. We see how Jamal and his brother Salim (Madhur Mittal) joined by their female friend Latika (Freida Pinto) grow up in one of the country’s worst slums where they must resort to a spree of petty crimes in order to survive. Later we catch up with them in their teens as they conduct tours of the Taj Mahal and make up tall tales for the unsuspecting visitors. Out of desperation their crimes get more intense as Latika gets herself into big trouble. By the time we get to Jamal’s appearance on the game show it’s clear he has learned what really counts as the tension-driven sequences have him answering questions at a furious pace by the dubious quizmaster (Anil Kapoor). Using a cast of largely unknown actors director Danny Boyle has created an ensemble that exudes freshness and vitality. Outstanding performances come from all the kids who play the main characters of Jamal Latika and Salim at three different ages. They are countered by the adults in the story who also make the most of their juicy roles -- particularly Indian superstar Anil Kapoor playing the shady host of the game show. His scenes on set opposite Patel’s 18 year-old Jamal are riveting and suspenseful beyond any thriller. Both actors play a telekinetic cat-and-mouse game with complete believability. Patel is terrific a real find as is the gorgeous Freida Pinto as the older Latika. Equally effective is Madhur Mittal as the crime-bent older Salim. Irrfan Khan as the determined inspector has his own intense moments while interrogating Jamal. Serious-minded movies rarely get to show off such talented younger actors but Slumdog is virtually a treasure trove in this regard. Danny Boyle’s direction is vibrant alive and pulsating with originality. This director has shown great aptitude for tackling all sorts of different genres from the dark drug-filled Trainspotting to the light-hearted family fare Millions. He’s even done zombies with 28 Days Later. With Slumdog the Brit tackles a completely foreign culture to his own and effortlessly engages us in the plight of these characters. The filmmaking is crisp and cutting-edge with an array of colors and editing choices that put us smack into the center of the story. Cutting back and forth seamlessly between the game show tapings and the flashbacks slowly filling in the answers to Jamal’s ultimate fate Boyle has crafted a completely original movie-going experience. Ending it all on an upbeat note there’s a great Bollywood-type pop number that ranks as the best musical sequence we’ve seen on film all year. You are guaranteed to leave the theater on a high.