The Legend of Some Guy (The Legend of Hercules, 2014)

Hercules_Legend_PosterYears ago Queen Alcmene for her husband’s lust for power terrifying and pledged to Zeus to bear his son, with the purposes of ending the King’s reign.  Their first born, Iphicles, grows up to be a selfish brat, jealous of his more loved younger brother.  Hercules seems oblivious to his brother’s petty nature, even allowing him to publicly take credit for Hercules deeds. Hercules is happy as long as he has the love of the beautiful Princess Hebe.  But one night, the King announces that she is to be married to Iphicles.  Hercules and Hebe run away together, but are caught.

As punishment, Hercules is sent to Egypt with a regiment of the army.  There, they are ambushed and only Hercules and General Sotiris survive.  They are sold into slavery and end up fighting in gladiator combat.  They use this to get back to Greece so he might save his beloved.  But once they return, it becomes clear that he has a larger destiny.

Part of this is learning to accept his status as a demi-god and embracing Zeus as his father, which he rejects earlier in the film. Oddly, while the film presents the gods as very much real, we never meet a human visage for any of them.  They move through the elements and speak through flesh and blood humans.

To be honest, this film represents a problem I see in attempts to bring myths to film in modern films.  These films seem more influenced by movies than their original stories. The Legend of Hercules feels like a direct to video sequel, and it’s inspirations are all based in films.  This is more of a Gladiator meets 300 (with a scene borrowed from the story of Sampson).

It is incredibly dependent on every action scene doing that “picture pauses mid action, but camera is still moving” effect.  It happens repeatedly during pretty much every action scene.  The end result is a loss of any real identity for the film, rather looking like a knockoff of better works.

Lutz’s Hercules is not a particularly exciting take on the character.  Sure, he is impressively muscular, but that is about it.  The story the filmmakers tell hardly echoes the rich history of the character.  Sure, there is a bit where he fights a lion…

And mind you, it is not wrong to decide to tell an all new story…but then the new story will have to rise to meet the expectations set by the legend.  And this film does not manage such a feat.

Superman and Zeus (Immortals, 2011)

Immortals_PosterImmortals begins with an ominous dream in which a man uses a mythic bow to free the Titans who were locked away by the gods.  We are told how the gods defeated the titans, and in the midst of their battle the powerful Epirus Bow was lost.  Now, eons later, the vicious King Hyperion seeks to find the bow and set free the Titans, allowing him to reign destruction across the earth.

A seaside village is under threat from Hyperion’s armies, hastened when a soldier betrays them.  This results in Hyperion killing the mother of peasant Theseus. Unknown to anyone, including Theseus himself, he was trained as a warrior by Zeus himself (in the guise of an elderly man).  Theseus is hopeless and enslaved, until Phaedra, the virgin oracle, seeks his help in escaping the grasp of Hyperion.  Their mission becomes that of stopping Hyperion from freeing the Titans.

The gods of Olympus are not playing games here, and in a way the film kind of inverts the Clash of the Titans remake.  Instead of the gods demanding the faith of men, here, Zeus implores the other gods to follow his lead and have faith in mankind.  They have a rule against direct interference (Zeus’ loophole for helping Theseus was that he did not use his god state, but rather did his work in the form of a human). The other gods are more impatient, wanting to intervene directly.

The film does not hold very tightly to the myths of Theseus (the mythical founder of Athens). This is not to say those stories go unacknowledged.  But they occur more as brief incidentals, or serve other purposes than the original tales.

Immortals is quite a visually stunning film. This is no surprise, coming from director Tarsem Singh, known for films like the Fall and the Cell. An aesthetic of beauty stands above practicality with wild armor and flowing robes filling the screen.

And while it uses a similar style to films like Zak Snyder’s 300, it feels very much like it is truly the vision of it’s director, rather than following in a popular style.  The gods move in a unique way, with their golden armor creating motion trails, and while they are moving through fights quickly, their blows strike the targets in slow motion (simultaneously).  And yet, the film ends up feeling more like eye-candy than a real story.  Everything is so pretty to look at and yet, feels incredibly empty.


Every Town Has an Elm Street Part 8 (A Nightmare On Elm Street, 2010)

nightmare-reboot-posterThe best two things about the reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street?  Jackie Earl Haley and the opening credits.

Otherwise, as with other recent franchise rebooting remakes it is pretty by the numbers.  It jumps in quick, and a bit disjointedly.  Kids apparently hang out late night en mass at the diner where Nancy works.  A kid falls asleep and then appears to kill himself.  The kids go to the funeral and it’s off to the next death.  This is inspired by the highly effective sequence in the original where Tina dies in bed with her boyfriend.  But where that was gritty and uncomfortable and painful…this sequence feels safely faked.

While the police are quick to arrest the boyfriend of the dead girl, he gets a chance to warn Nancy.  Unlike the original, the kids figure out instantly that if you die in your dream you for realz!  The first movie had Nancy and Glenn (Johnny Depp) trying to determine the truth of the situation, but not sure they could trust Tina’s boyfriend.  Here it’s no challenge and they are on their way to figuring out the truth about Freddy.

Kids die, but it is hard to care, because they lack distinctive identities.  Though, in one well written moment, after destroying a kids heart, Freddy gently explains that a brain can function for seven minutes after the heart stops.  Freddy notes, with relish, that they still have six minutes to play.  End scene.  And had the entire film played out like this?  It would have been one of the most unnerving films of the year.

After all, Jackie Earl Haley makes Freddy menacing.  At no point is he campy-even when delivering a typical Freddy-esque line.  Haley was perfect casting, and yet, he is working with a cast that is Twilight-lite.  Sure, you have good character actors in the adult roles (always nice to see Clancy Brown in a movie).  But much like another remake of a Wes Craven Film (The Last House On the Left) the improved effects and technology results in a glossy and less effective film.

One thing that stood out was the trailer suggested Freddy was possibly an innocent victim, and while the film briefly flirts with this, it quickly makes it clear that Freddy was a child molester.  Not a child killer, mind you.

Frankly, I think I would have given the film more credit had Freddy been an innocent.  If Freddy had been a kind and gentle man who loved kids, only to be killed by a mob of angry folks whose righteous anger was fueled by a falsehood that led to the cruel death of a decent man… and that action created a monster worse than what they thought they were ridding the world of?  That would have been a rather daring take on the character.

But instead, the filmmakers go for gloss and a safe veneer.  Unlike the Friday the 13th remake (I’ll discuss that one later), the film is more conservative in things like gore and nudity.  This of course is not really a bad thing, they tried a less exploitation fueled approach, and I would have applauded them for it had they made a more effective film.  But instead, it just makes it clear what a bland approach was taken here.

I mentioned the opening credits, and they are downright beautiful and artistic.  We see shadows of children playing, hands stretched to mimic Freddy’s infamous claws.  It’s highly effective imagery and a real shame that the new film could not match up to it’s opening credits.

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