Renny Harlin’s Riff Displeases the Gods
I love peak Renny Harlin. Big budget action adventure just doesn’t get much better than Cliffhanger or Die Hard 2. Even The Long Kiss Goodnight and Deep Blue Sea are underappreciated gems. The Harlin brand is generally enough to get me to check a film out, even if we’re mostly met with diminishing rewards these days. The recent Jackie Chan/Johnny Knoxville action comedy Skiptrace was fairly workmanlike and never rose above the various pieces assembled; but Hercules is a different story. It’s just roundly uninspired on virtually every level, and shows none of the explosive elements that made any of the aforementioned classics tick.
Reviews for Hercules had been enough to stave me off this long. But as I’m firmly committed to watching every single film of action wunderkind Scott Adkins’ filmography, and Harlin was at the helm, the 4K release of this title created the winning hand needed for me to watch and review. And let me tell you… it’s absolutely baffling why this title would be a top priority for the 4K UHD upgrade. Visually dull and flat out ugly, Hercules apes the stylization of Zack Snyder’s 300 to a troubling degree. It looks and feels cheap from start to finish, with nary a color to be seen. Add to that a smoothed-edges PG-13 rating, a wooden lead performance from Kellan Lutz, and a lack of any kind of unique take on an old formula, and The Legend Of Hercules offers just about nothing to recommend it.
That said… I will try to highlight some positives. For one thing… while my man Scott Adkins has never been held up as a thespian, he does run charisma circles around everyone else on camera here. Set up as the film’s lead villain, Adkins is hacking and slashing the (digital) scenery and even getting to flex his fighting muscles in a wide release film. That is always a good thing. There’s also a kernel of an idea that might have been interesting had it been better developed or bolstered by a better film. And that’s the origin story element of Hercules. A young man unaware of his godly blood, we see Hercules first become a hero through his ability, and eventually we see him tap into new powers as he accepts his newfound heritage. It’s been done a million times and origin stories are becoming a crutch for Hollywood, but somehow this element came the closest to working as anything did in Legend of Hercules. Aside from these and a few brief moments of slow motion action that actually allowed the 4K transfer to pop for mere seconds, there’s precious little to enjoy.
Heavily aping 300 isn’t the only larceny Hercules commits. Adhering like glue to the Gladiator story structure, a mighty general becomes a gladiator, only to rise up and topple an empire. Hercules isn’t even the best poorly reviewed Gladiator clone, with Pompeii besting this film on every level. When epic fantasy is being done on the small screen to meteoric success with Game of Thrones… when India is able to thrill and delight with epic Herculean action in Baahubali… when The Rock is playing Hercules in a competing studio tentpole about the very same character… you’d better bring something, anything, to make your fantasy spectacle stand out. Instead, Harlin (who also produced and co-wrote) tried to capitalize on some trends that had come before and whiffs hard with a mythical epic that is almost wholly uninspired.
As mentioned, this was probably the least spectacular 4K Blu-ray experience of my admittedly recent foray into the format. Extra Ks just can’t do much to make an outright ugly film look better. Those who are fans of the film, however, at least get a definitive package here, with the 4K disc, and a Blu-ray disc that features the 3D version of the film as well as the 2D. Harlin, Adkins, or Lutz completists have something to rejoice, I guess.
- Audio Commentary with Renny Harlin and Kellan Lutz
- “The Making of The Legend Of Hercules” Featurette
And I’m Out.
The Legend Of Hercules hits 4K UHD Blu-ray on Sept. 19th from Summit Entertainment