The foul stench of feebleness is secreted right from the opening frames of The Legend of Hercules, with an extended prologue that's more snooze-stimulator than scene-setter. An attempt to give context to the birth of the brawny Greek hero Hercules, it eschews establishing either characters or circumstances in favour of tedious swordfighting sequences in which the action is repeatedly 'frozen' by director Renny Harlin for seemingly no reason other than to delay our agony. It feels like a trailer of a movie's worst bits, passing by without mustering a flicker of interest.
Fast forward to the times of Hercules as a young adult, all rippling muscle and crippling intellect, and these same mistakes occur over and over again until the end credits appear, providing extreme relief from the cinematic equivalent of waterboarding. The ensuing plot largely consists of Twilight star Kellan Lutz's excruciatingly dull title character romping around from scene to scene fighting people, shouting monotonous soundbites like a WWE wrestler doing a pre-bout promotional piece to camera. He also alternates between two expressions throughout the entire movie.
The first expression can be captured by one word - vacant. The second is accompanied by an extended roar - thus creating a cacophonic symphony with the viewer's own internal screams - and is best described as mirroring the anguished yet angry look of a scowling child who's just s**t his pants and been told he's being docked a month's pocket money as punishment.
This abysmal attempt to give Hercules an origin story falters on every dramatic, thematic and visual level possible. Was it designed to be a tax loss? Even dental extraction is more enjoyable to endure than this artistically bankrupt misfire.
It would come as no surprise if Lutz and the rest of the cast were reading their dialogue from an autocue, such is the abject lack of emotion or emphasis injected into the barren proceedings. Not that the quality of the dialogue was remotely salvageable. When Queen Alcmene (a radiant Roxanne McKee from Hollyoaks) drops the bombshell to King Amphitryon (Scott Adkins) that she was impregnated by another entity, she wails: "Zeus came to my bed and planted his seed in me!" The kind of agricultural patter you'd normally hear on Countryfile. Kind of.
The key dramatic beats breeze by without any impact. When the Queen finally tells Hercules the identity of his father it's dramatically tantamount to an office worker muttering to a colleague that he's nipping out for a smoke. There's simply a massive absence of credulity to the characters that stems from a grossly inept script. To make matters worse, the soundtrack is so grandiose and overbearing in its attempts to enhance the drama that it has the opposite effect, instead highlighting how little we care for the fate of the characters.
Occasionally a pedestrian action adventure movie can be jazzed up by some snazzy visual pyrotechnics that may please on a visceral (if not cerebral) level like Zack Snyder's handling of 300. This certainly isn't the case here. The FX shots are so crude they look like they were rendered in MS Paint, with one CGI lion provoking howls of derision. It makes a sock puppet like Pob, that bastion of Channel 4's children's programming in the 1980s, look like one of the creatures from Avatar in comparison.
At one point midway through the movie, an overblown announcer at a colosseum about to host a gladiatorial battle introduces one of the participants by shouting: "A man has come to our shores. A slave with the name of Hercules... We will return him not as a man but as a pile of bloody guts and bone on which the canines of Olympus may feast!"
This four-legged feeding frenzy sadly failed to materialise. If it had, perhaps with an extended montage sequence of rabid mutts gnawing on the flesh of an unbearably bland hero, then The Legend of Hercules may have had a brief moment of redemption. But it didn't, and boy did we suffer.