The film, such that it is, starts like so many others... with exposition
. Oh goody!
We get a generic narrator talking about great heroes as we look around a room. The narrator tells us that about heroes and that Hercules was the greatest of them. Just tell us the end before you even start
telling the story. That must be a new storytelling technique I've never heard of. We zoom in on the pot as the narrator asks what the measure of a "true hero" is.
Oh look, someone's trying to clunkily establish some kind of theme for this film. Isn't that sweet of them? Yeah, don't let that develop slowly over the film; just state it outright at the beginning.
Anyway, five female paintings on the pot suddenly animate and interrupt him, telling him to "lighten up, dude" (urge to kill, rising...) and basically hijack the storytelling. And then, I shit you not, they become a gospel choir and start to sing.
OK, can we go back to the generic narrator please? Pretty
please? No? Dammit.
The five figures introduce themselves as the Muses. All five of them. ...Moving on, they start in hard and heavy with the exposition. They talk about history, when chaos reigned over the earth. Then Zeus showed up and beat the chaotic Titans with lightning. Because, well, that's all Zeus does; he throws lighting
. Which obviously would have an effect on a living tornado.
Then the five Muses tell us that this is the "Gospel truth." Sure why not.
On the plus side, that's 2 minutes of the film over.
Cut to Mount Olympus, AKA: fluffy cloud heaven
. We see a gathering of what I assume are various gods. Cut to Hera, squeeing over Hercules.
Ahem: Hera. Squeeing. Over. HERCULES
Moving on, Zeus shows up, and he's gigantic, while Hera is of course wafer-thin. Right.
Zeus plays nicely with his infant son, marveling at the boy's strength. Cut to someone flying through the assembly of gods, calling out names so that we might have a chance to associate these generic beings with characters we've actually heard of. It's a blue, midget Hermes, delivering flowers for the infant Hercules.
In a desperate attempt to tell the audience that the writers actually know stuff about Greek Mythology, Hermes toss off a few shout outs and mythology gags. Just FYI writers: touting your knowledge of various minutiae from Greek Mythology in this movie only means is that you fucked it up on purpose.
Ignorance is at least an excuse...
Moving on, Hercules pulls out a lightning bolt that Zeus seems to carry around with him for some reason. He then proceeds to bite it, shocking himself, then hurls it away, and it gets bashed into a column. The damage is almost immediately self-repaired.
That... that's actually kind of clever
. As we will see in the next section, Hercules spends the first portion of this movie as a klutz who destroys everything around him due to gross incompetence. Of course, that's fine in Fluffy Cloud Heaven, but less so in the real world.
So apparently, the other gods all gave gifts to the infant Hercules. None of these
will matter at all, because that might require some of the gods who aren't Zeus and Hades to actually have a character. And we can't have that in this movie about Greek Mythology
. The only reason these gifts are even acknowledged is so that Zeus can then pull out some clouds and shape them into a winged horse that he calls "Pegasus," which he gives to his son.
The first thing that Herc does with the horse is head-butt it. And after that, BFF. Sure why not.
After some more pointless squeeing over the infant, James Woods announces his presence with a "How sentimental." Oh thank God, the plot finally arrived. Camera-pan over to a shadowy figure who will be our obvious villain for this film: Hades. He attempts to mock the tedious preceedings with a joke, but I'm the only one laughing.
After some pointless banter establishing what Hades does, Hades then proceeds to give a gift of a pacifier to Herc, but the kid instead crushes Hades's finger. Zeus for some reason feels the need to call Hades a "stiff," and he asks Hades to stay and enjoy the party. Hades points out that he has a, you know, real job
that he has to actually do. Zeus then says, "You ought to slow down; you'll work yourself to death." And then everyone laughs at his lame pun. When Zeus says that "I kill myself," Hades (along with myself) wishes he would as he stalks off.
So, we have established our villain. We know that he hates Zeus, and nobody else much likes him. And we know that he has a job watching the dead, one that takes a lot of time. A job that the movie was nice enough to tell us Zeus gave him.
Which is probably why he hates Zeus. So... why exactly should we hate the villain again? He seems to have a pretty legitimate grudge here; Zeus stuck him with a crappy job, one that doing it properly requires a lot of time and effort.
Oh right, the sad excuse for a Greek Chorus lets us know that he has an evil plan, and "that's the Gospel Truth." OK, can they never say that line again?!
Please? The word "gospel" does not belong in a tale of Greek Mythology. Also, constantly telling the audience that it's the "truth?" What is the point of that exactly? It does the opposite of increasing verisimilitude: if you have to constantly reaffirm your honestly, you sound dishonest.
Cut to Hades in the underworld. He crosses what I can only assume is intended to be the river Styx. Upon getting to the other side, he calls out to "Pain" and "Panic", who appear in a mass of slapstick-inspired horseshit Komedy!. Oh good, comic-relief sidekicks for the villain. And one of them is voiced by Bobcat Goldthwait, who has the most annoying voice on the planet Earth. Because the audience doesn't have enough reason to not take this film seriously yet.
After some more Komedy!, we cut to Hades meeting with the three Fates. Who are three old hags that share an eye between them. To establish that they decide when people die, we see them cut a thread, which causes a scream from somewhere. One of the old hags says, "Incoming!" and we see a spirit fly in. Of course, this nod to Greek Mythology is instantly shat upon when we see the spirit fly under a sign that says, "Over 5,000,000,000 Served."
Oh God no, this is going to be one of those
Disney movies, isn't it? You know, the kind that dates itself even before the film comes out, with all kinds of pop-culture references. The kind that thinks merely referencing
pop culture is funny instead of actually having jokes. Only in this film, there's no explanation for why they are here. They just exist... because! It's trite, hackney, and done to death. And it does nothing for the film as a whole.
And yes, I know that Disney basically started this
, but that only makes its use in this film so shameful. It isn't even done well,
as exemplified in this joke which barely qualifies as a joke.
The Fates establish that they know everything that's going to happen. And we get an actually amusing bit where Hades tries to deliver exposition, but the Fates keep telling him that they already know it. Granted, that doesn't stop
Hades, but it does manage to elicit a chuckle. He asks if Zeus's new son will affect his "hostile takeover" *groan*.
The Fates tell him that they aren't supposed to reveal the future. Hades then attempts to use flattery, which apparently works. Even though the Fates just said that they know the future.
The Fates exposite that, 18 years from that day, the planets will align into the great conjunction, and only by Gelfling hand
... oh sorry, I'm getting my prophecies confused with a good
film. In any case, during the alignment, Hades is going to release the Titans and bring down Zeus. How exactly that's supposed to work, I don't know, since the opening infodump made it pretty clear that Zeus face-stomped them easily enough the first time.
The Fates then say that if Hercules fights, his plan will fail. Then they vanish, while Hades blusters angrily.
Cut to Hades going somewhere with his comedy relief. He rhetorically asks them how to kill a god, and he says that the first step is to make them mortal. He pulls a vial of red potion out of a... something.
Cut to nighttime in fluffy cloud heaven. We see an ominous shadow looming over where little Herc is sleeping, and then we hear crashing while looking at Zeus and Hera sleeping. The noise wakes them up and they check on Herc, only to find that he's gone. Hera breaks down, while Zeus delivers a Big No.
Apparently Herc was kidnapped by Pain and Panic (who I will refer to as P&P, because they're practically one character anyway. To the extent that they even count as a character). They slapstick their way to the ground, then feed the baby the potion to turn him mortal. But they're kind enough to exposite that he has to drink "every last drop." Yeah, that'll happen.
They hear someone calling to them and run off, breaking the apparently empty bottle. But it isn't, as the camera shows us one drop left in it that falls to the ground and disappears.
So Hades. You have this potion that turns gods into mortals. But the entire dose must be drunken to get the full effect. So... why not just fill the bottle with one and a half doses, just to make sure? Why take the chance that some of it will stick to the side of the bottle and not going in the kid's mouth?
Anyway, the voice that interrupted them are a man and a woman, who decide that this child must be the one that they prayed for over many years. Sure why not. P&P shape-shift into snakes and attack, but Herc ties them up and flings them away. As a baby. Sure why not. The adoptive parents find out his name from a medal that baby Herc was wearing. You know, just in case he was kidnapped, turned into a mortal, and adopted by some random strangers, at least those strangers would know his name.
P&P decide to leave it be, reasoning that if Hades doesn't find out, they won't be in trouble. You didn't really think through that whole "Fates predict the future" thing, did you? Also, can't you just follow them back to their home and kill the kid when they're all asleep? No, because that would end the movie, and that would be such a shame.
Our pseudo-Greek Chorus informs us
that Herc is technically mortal, but he still has his super-strength. Also, we're told that he can't go back to fluffy cloud heaven, because only gods can live up there. Oh, and "that's the Gospel Truth." Because it's totally not jarring at all to have gospel music in a movie about Greek Mythology.
I would now like to point out that we're almost fifteen minutes
into the film. Wasn't there a better way to dump all of this on us? Couldn't this have been told to us during the narrative of the story?
Hell, Lord of the Rings was over eleven hours long
in the extended edition, and its prologue only lasted ~7 minutes or so. Even if you count everything until Frodo leaves the Shire, that's only 45 minutes, which is still proportionately less time overall than this movie spends on backstory
. And at least LotR spent that 45 minutes with vital character establishment for many of our main characters.
Compare this to an awesome Disney movie: Beauty and the Beast
. The backstory takes what, 2 minutes tops? Then we get a rousing 5 minute song that introduces the setting, the heroine, the heroine's main character traits, the heroine's desires, the antagonist, the antagonist's main character traits, the antagonist's desires, and various supporting and bit characters from the village.
You want to know what the definition of sloppy storytelling is? It's spending the first one-sixth of your film with people who aren't the main character, main character's primary love interest, or main character's mentor/comic relief sidekick. You know, the people the fucking story is about.