The key to a movie that is so bad that it is good is that it has to take itself absolutely dead seriously. No tongues in cheek, no nods at the camera at the absurdity. Everyone involved has to plow forward with the seriousness of a movie about falling in love in a concentration camp. There’s a distinction I think between movies that are so bad that they’re good, and B-movies that are terrible but fun. See, the latter are movies like Sharknado. They are terrible. They know they are terrible. And they’re really in it to make you laugh. The motivation is different with so-bad-they’re-good. They’re honestly trying to make a fantastic film, but they are so incompetent at every level that the exercise descends into pure entertainment. It’s not funny because it’s funny, it’s funny because it is failing so badly at being good.
In other words, movies like Sharknado? We’re laughing with them. Movies like The Legend of Hercules? We’re laughing at them. But it’s not just about a movie being serious and bad. Getaway had that in spades, and it was the worst movie I’ve ever seen. The difference is between that earnest overly-serious guy who can’t tie his own shoes and the douchebag who struts around like he owns the bar. They’re both incomprehensibly dense and incompetent, but you’re only rooting for one them to get a hit by a bus.
The Legend of Hercules is the most I’ve laughed in a movie since The World’s End. Now don’t get me wrong, under no circumstances should you pay money to see this movie in a theater. But, you know, if your boss makes you, it will be a delightful experience.
You just can’t hate this movie. It would be like hating the golden retriever with a negative IQ that greets you every single day when you come home from work, running headfirst into the wall and then shitting itself as it does so. You cannot hate that dog. It’s just trying so hard, that it would be cruel not to love it anyway.
It’s a fantastic metaphor, because without casting aspersions on any particular grandparent of his, Kellan Lutz is at least one quarter mentally disabled golden retriever. For one thing, he is quite literally golden. I mean he’s as blonde and blue as an Aryan recruitment poster, with the proper bronzed sheen to boot. And his eyes aren’t placed quite right on his head, so for at least half the shots in the film he looks like he’s cross-eyed. And most of the time he has a sort of toothy grimace for an expression like his mouth can’t actually close right without dental intervention. He is bouncy and earnest and gosh just wants to do the right thing. Even while his acting tops the charts of junior-high drama club, not helped by the atrocious dialogue they make the poor guy say, Lutz is trying really really hard the entire time.
The breaking point of hilarity here is when Hercules sails for home to avenge his whatever and he is hanging off the bow, leaning forward with the most psychotically overjoyed grin you will ever see. The captain points out, “um, I told him it would be two more days, but he won’t come down.” Lutz is a tongue flapping out the side of his mouth from literally being a dog with his head out the car window.
And please don’t go off about judging an actor for their looks, or the usual series of outraged comments that follow paragraphs like that. My entire knowledge of Lutz comes from a movie in which he wears a leather skirt. Let’s go to Wikipedia. Oh, he campaigns against declawing cats. And was also in Twilight. So, he’s actually your middle-aged single aunt, but he seems like a nice enough guy, so there’s that.
I’ll just give you a taste of the gorgeous plot of this film. See, Hercules is sent to crush a rebellion in Egypt. Because in 1300 BC, Greece owned Egypt, just roll with it. He’s sent with only eighty men, which isn’t fair because he should get to take the full 160 for the unit. Because apparently the population of the ancient world was smaller than my high school.
Then the inevitable swarthy villains with funny hair and accents wipe out the massive unit and take Hercules hostage. Then they sell him into slavery with his buddy. Know who buys them? Kenneth Cranham, aka Pompey the Great from Rome. I guess he still had his toga and needed the cash, but if I actually yelled “HE WAS A CONSUL OF ROME!” in the theater, then I apologize to the other three people there, but I regret nothing.
This is problematic because Hercules’ one true love will be marrying another in 3 months time, so he totes has to get back and deal with that. Okay to summarize: Hercules leaves Greece, invades Egypt, gets captured, sold into slavery, fights his way to the top of the super gladiator rankings in Sicily, gets back to Greece, and starts an uprising, all before three months is up. Golden retrievers can be awfully hyperactive, but that’s a lot of mileage. And how was your summer vacation?
The two loveliest events in cinematic history occur in the last half hour. See the evil Egyptians must be defeated, but so do their allies: the Vikings. No seriously, they just reference “mercenaries from the north” but dudes show up in furs and with horned helmets right out of Skyrim. And then Hercules raises his sword to the skies and lightning from his dad supercharges it, and he uses it to electricity whip the other army to death. By the power of Greyskull, I swooned with laughter.
Between the worst CGI to be inflicted on the world since the mid-nineties, understanding of space, time, and history eclipsed by most six year olds, acting and dialogue so bad it should be a violation of international law in a just world, the constant and completely inexplicable bullet-time slowdowns of random parts of combat, and the complete lack of any kind of self-awareness in the midst of its catastrophic somberness, this film is as if someone liked 300 but wished that it wasn’t so dense and philosophical. But somehow it wraps back around into a level of hilarity that most comedies can only aspire to.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.