Yes, this one just as cheesy as you would expect it to be, in the proud tradition of Steve Reeves as Hercules. OK, maybe Kellan Lutz can act a little better (he was, after all, a vampire in the “Twilight” series), but he doesn’t have much to work with here. Mostly, he flexes a lot. And romances his fair Hebe (Gaia Weiss), the princess of Crete, who loves him back. But unfortunately, she’s promised to his older brother, Iphicles (Liam Garrigan), the heir to the throne. So the star-crossed lovers try to find a way to be together, but the Fates are against them.
The Fates, of course, are themselves part of Greek mythology, and at least according to Disney (both the movie and the subsequent television series), closely associated with Hercules, but not in this film. Here, we have a back-story with curiously religious overtones.
King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) was a mighty warrior, but as a monarch, turned out to be somewhat of a tyrant and a lout. He’s grooming his arrogant son, Iphicles, to inherit the throne, but he has also inherited his father’s innate selfishness and cruelty, much to the chagrin of his mother, Queen Alcmene (Roxanne McKee). Yes, here it’s starting to sound like the Esau and Jacob story, where Isaac prefers his older son, but Rebekah her younger son. But here, Queen Alcmene is so disdainful of her husband that she really doesn’t care to procreate any more of his progeny or give him the satisfaction of having another son. So she prays to Hera for deliverance, and Hera decides that Zeus can come visit her, and have a child by her. Hmm. So then there’s this kind of Immaculate Conception scene, punctuated by thunderstorm (Zeus hurling his thunderbolts?) followed, naturally, by a virgin birth. And the Queen tries to claim that her pregnancy is the result of her union with the spirit of the divine, but her jealous husband isn’t buying it (he apparently was not nearly so understanding as Mary’s Joseph turned out to be).
Hercules (Kellan Lutz) is born with superhuman strength, but at first just assumes he’s good at fighting because he’s a natural-born warrior. His mother later informs him that he’s actually the son of Zeus, which helps explain why his father and his brother hate him and are always sending him off to difficult military missions in the hopes that he will perish in the undertaking. The Queen tells her son that he has a destiny beyond what he’s envisioning, and that he needs to develop the relationship with his “real father” in order to grasp his true identity. Hmm. Sort of like the way Mary must have nurtured the boy Jesus?
Anyway, our mighty savior of the people is at one point chained and whipped and ridiculed, but just in case we might not get the inference, some wag comes along to yell, “He saved others, let him save himself” (Luke 23:25). And then, in an incredibly cheesy borrowed Christological moment, Hercules looks heavenward and says, “Father, I believe in you,” and suddenly he’s endowed with even more superhuman powers, which he uses to… defeat all his enemies. Well, something Christological got lost in the translation, namely the part about being the Prince of Peace.
Except at the very end, when Hercules now enjoys his beautiful bride and her new baby, on the way to living happily after, having eliminated all the villains, including, yes, his own hateful father. Can we really root for patricide?
Well, despite the slo-mo stop-action fight scenes, in 3D no less, this one is not destined to be a classic. Yes, it’s January at the movies, after all the potential Oscar nominees have been released, and what we have leftover is… this warmed-over wannabe epic, with all the awkward stiltedness of a Steve Reeves re-heat.
RONALD P. SALFEN is the minister at St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church in Irving, Texas.