The Legend of Hercules, and most of it certainly won't be very nice, but it's been a really long time since a movie that was this bad and this so-bad-it's-good, and in such a classical way. It is a bad movie - a profoundly bad movie across all the disciplines of craft, and in some very showy ways - and it is a dumb movie, and it represents some kind of new low for director Renny Harlin's cinema of clattering, nonsensical action, which actually does surprise me, because I'd have assumed that Renny Harlin bottoming out years ago was just reliable, conventional wisdom. But boy, but it all together and try to make it the action star debut of the most talent-starved new leading man in ages, and the result is electrifying: a misfire from top to bottom so complete that even when you think you have a handle on all the ways it can be bad, it pulls out another one that's even worse. It's deranged as hell, and never boring. If I had known, I'd have been there opening night instead of waiting over a week to catch up with it.
As far as legends of Hercules, it's a complete enough rejection of anything found in the annals of myth to make Disney's take on the same story seem conservative and respectful. In 1200 B.C., in Argos, the invader Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) defeats the local king in one-on-one combat, thus increasing his holdings. This is either to impress his wife Alcmene (Roxanne McKee), or to steal her from the Argosians - the dialogue is almost never clear anywhere in the film - but it doesn't work; in fact, Alcmene is so offended by Amphitryon that she prays to Hera to deliver a champion to overthrow Amphitryon in his wickedness. Hera is so moved that she encourages her consort Zeus to impregnate Alcmene with a half-god child, who will one day triumph over Amphitryon, playing into the well-known mythological tropes of both Hera's enthusiastic endorsement of Zeus's illicit sexual dalliances, and her deep affection for and support of Hercules, Alcmene's son.
Hercules grows up to be Kellan Lutz, who was one of the sexy vampires from Twilight and its sequels. I don't remember which. The hot-headed violent one, I think. Regardless, Lutz's first big post-Twilight Saga starring role is the platonic ideal of "performance given by somebody driven to prominence by Twilight". It is entirely abysmal. The creation of emotional states, signified by facial expressions, seems to be entirely beyond his skill set: his beefy face, set atop a beefier body, is well-built for broad, insincere smiles but nothing else, and whenever he goes through what appears to be an enormous amount of effort to showcase something like "anger" or "contemplation" or "worried", the results are inconclusive at best, looking something like a toddler asked to make his "mean face" before dissolving into giggles. And when he's actually encouraged by the script and his director to play up the big toothy grin and cheeriness, it's even worse: his expression when looking at the nubile body of the cardboard female love interest, Princess Hebe (Gaia Weiss), includes the rapiest smile that I can imagine, so much more aggressive and unsettling than a simple leer that it made me feel violated right there in the audience.
Lutz is the worst thing in a film full to the brim with worst things, and the primary reason I anoint with the holy title of Hilariously Bad, but it's really the sort of thing that keeps on giving. As the plot keeps moving on and the film fully establishes itself as a Gladiator copy (as stories about Hercules are wont to do), Harlin has plenty of opportunities to stage action scenes, squandering virtually all of them: the grubby, violent rural fighting pits where Hercules and his trusty sidekick Sotiris (Liam McIntyre) against two insufficiently differentiated giant bruisers, standing on top of stone gangplanks hovering over a pit; the scene where Hercules fights six Greeks in an arena and manages to kill five of them (but not the girl fighter, because this film has long since demonstrated by this point that it's okay with chauvinism) so quickly that it barely registers what's happening; the fight scene where a godded-up Hercules swings marble blocks around on chains attached to his wrist, like a Resident Evil level boss; all of them are shot with messy camerawork and ghastly speed ramps on loan from Zack Snyder, whose 300 is never very far from mind at any point in Hercules's entire running time.
But it's not just the action that the film fucks up, it's everything: Alcmene's seduction by Zeus is one of the most hilarious bad movie scenes in years, with lightning and wind machines and a writhing over-the-top orgasm to punctuated, it as the faithful servant Chiron (Rade Serbedzija) watching on gravely. The sex-in-a-pond scene between Hercules and Hebe is blanketed, in a bid to get more value out of the film's 3-D effects I'm sure (sadly, I only saw it all flat-like), in a flurry of dust particles and pollen so thick that it looks like a snowstorm. The CGI Nemean Lion (the closest the film ever comes to the actual Hercules myth that normal people actually know) is literally the single worst effect I've seen in a wide-release film in the 2010s, bad enough to make The Legend of Hercules look more like an Ayslum production premiering on Syfy timed to the release of a "real" Hercules picture, rather than the actual real picture itself (and if this is some kind of attempt to piggyback off of this summer's Hercules: The Thracian Wars, it's a dazzlingly misconceived one).
The whole thing plays, in general, like a bunch of enthusiastic kids in love with mythology and also slow-motion somehow ended up with enough money to make a CGI-heavy action film. The acting is that level, even beyond the conspicuously budget-minded Eastern European cast. The epic-less vistas are like that, especially because of the conspicuously budget-minded Eastern European mountains. Lutz's barely-not-laughing Serious Face is emphatically like that, like playing Hercules was just a lark and look at the cool sword my brother at college lent me. It is a wonderfully stupid, smallish, inept film, and I fully enjoyed every second of it.