Opinionated Guide to Disney's Hercules


The Distance

Welcome to the film's third act. It starts with a shot of the planets in alignment. Together, they fire a beam down into the ocean, which cuts through the water and reveals the prison of the Titans. Just in case we forgot what they said an hour ago, Hades asks them who imprisoned them and they answer "Zeus." Then he asks what the first thing they plan to do upon being set loose is. As they burst forth, they say, "Destroy him!"

Note that these aren't "Titans" so much as... Elementals. Great, now they're stealing from D&D. There are four elementals and a giant, obese Cyclops. Obviously a being from the Plane of Elemental Lard. Each of the Elementals gets a scene where they kill stuff, saying how they're going to use their elemental powers to kill Zeus that way. Alright, the four Elementals + 1 have had a scene establishing their powers, and they're marching on Zeus with the intent to kill. Since this could be interesting, naturally, this film screws it up.

See, they're going the wrong way, and Hades has to correct them. Komedy! Really movie? You can't have a single semi-effective scene of actual tension without screwing it up?

The reason for the giant, obese Cyclops is now revealed, as Hades says that he has something he wants him to do.

Cut to Hermes spotting the oncoming Titans, so he scurries off to inform Zeus, who starts rallying the various gods. We get token shots of the rest, and we find out that Apollo is apparently played by Keith David. That might be awesome if Apollo actually did something in this film. But no, it's just a thoroughly wasted cameo.

Hephaestus gives Zeus a fresh batch of lightning bolts, but we see that the attack does nothing to the Earth Elemental (note: remember this). The gods are similarly easily dispatched by the Air Elemental.

Well, enough of that; cut to the Cyclops trashing Thebes, constantly calling out to Hercules while killing people.


This was Hades's plan? This was the "special job" he had this guy go do? Calling out Herc? Was Hades even in the room when the Fates made their proclamation? Allow me to quote them directly: "Should Hercules fight, you will fail." It's six words; you'd think he'd remember them.

So Hades's plan is, after sidelining Herc by depowering him, he sends a giant Cyclops to go and rattle his chain. Thus ensuring that he will fight. And therefore, Hades's plan will fail.

I didn't think they could make this movie any more of an Idiot Plot, but they somehow managed to do it.

Cut to Herc and Meg. Herc watches this gigantic beast wrecking the town and starts walking towards it. Meg interjects, saying that he'll be killed without his super-powers. Perhaps if he bathes in Earth's yellow sun for a bit longer...

Anyway, Herc steps up to the Cyclops. And very little is made of the courage of this moment. The music doesn't cue into it. None of the cinematography or animation points it out. It's just, "oh, Herc's going to fight something that will kill him in a second. Nothing much to see here." This is supposed to be when Herc stops trying to be a hero and actually becomes a hero. But nothing in the film treats it that way. Even worse, there's a reason for that: by this film's warped logic, this isn't heroic enough. More on that later.

The Cyclops taunts Herc a bit, then effortlessly smacks him away into a stone billboard. Which kills him; The End.

No, not really; that would actually make sense, which is not allowed in this movie. Anyway, Meg randomly finds where Pegasus has been tied up, and the two of them fly off to find Phil. For some reason. Meg says that Phil can "talk some sense into him," but I don't know what that is supposed to mean in this context. Hercules is sacrificing his life to save others. Does she expect Phil to stop him somehow? And how does that fit into the heroism theme?

We get a quick cut to the Elementals breaking into fluffy cloud heaven, because Zeus literally cannot hit the broadside of a mountain. No really, he missed the two hundred-foot tall mound of stone climbing Mt. Olympus.

Cut to Meg and Pegasus finding Phil boarding a boat. She tries to get him to come with them, but he's not listening. Well, until she tells him that Herc will be killed if he doesn't come with them. This apparently gives him pause.

Cut back to fluffy cloud heaven. Hermes reports that all the gods were captured off-screen, because who gives a damn about them, right? We then see Zeus himself get captured by the Fire and Ice Elementals. Hades makes is presence known to gloat a bit.

Well, that scene's done; time to move on. We see the Cyclops bouncing Hercules hundreds of feet into the air. OK, the only thing we can believe at this point is that this world works on cartoon physics, and therefore Herc is hurt only as much as the plot requires. Which means we see physical signs of damage, but no real injury or the death that he should have had dozens of times over by now.

So everyone else shows up after the Cyclops flicks Herc into a pillar, killing him for the hundredth time. Phil then gives him a pep talk, saying that he needs to fight back and can take him. Really. Herc, with no super-strength who's already been pummeled into mush can take the hundred-foot-tall man of super-strong lard with one eye. Naturally, this ends with Phil talking about "going the distance," which is the only use of this phrase thus far that actually means something.

This spurs Herc to action as the Cyclops seizes him and tries to eat him. Herc grabs a conveniently placed burning piece of wood and jams it in the Cyclops's eye. Then, he's killed for the hundred and first time, by a fall of a hundred feet onto a wooden cart. While the Cyclops is distracted, Herc ties a cord around its legs, then pulls its feet together-

Bullshit! There is no way you can expect me to believe that the supposedly depowered Hercules, after going through stuff that should have killed him a hundred times over, has the strength to move the Cyclops's legs when he's tying them. And if you think I'm wrong, look at the footage; he's clearly pulling the legs closer together. Yes, one foot is off the ground, but there's no way that this didn't require super-strength. This is cheating, nothing less than the naked hand of the author arbitrarily deciding that the hero gets to win against all logic and reason.

Oh, and the Cyclops falls off a convenient cliff that wasn't there in any shot before now. Thanks for setting the scene, cinematographers.

As Herc watches the Cyclops die, a pillar starts to fall on him. Meg sees this and pushes him out of the way. For some reason. The man survived hitting a stone sign at over a hundred miles an hour; I think he can take one pillar. But no, she gets crushed instead.

Now, by this movie's own logic, this should be a minor inconvenience to her. But because this is a dramatic moment, cartoon physics has somehow been rescinded, so this causes serious injury. Herc tries to lift the pillar off of her, which doesn't work at first. But then in a fit of glowing light, he gets his super-strength back (again) and lifts it. He wonders why that happened. Meg is kind enough to say that, since Hades included that clause about her not being harmed, the deal is off, so Herc gets his powers back.

OK, it's bad enough that Hades was hijacked by Satan. It's worse when they have him hijacked by the worst Satan ever. He makes this deal, which explicitly includes a clause stating that Herc gets his powers back if she's harmed. Then he lets Meg go for no adequately explained reason, thus raising the possibility that she could be harmed outside of his protection. And then, knowing that she's with Hercules, he tells the big Cyclops to go kill Hercules. This therefore endangers her and makes it highly likely that his little contract will be broken.

THIS IS THE VILLAIN'S PLAN! How do people defend this pile of shit?

Oh, and scorn has to be heaped on Meg for this. There are two possibilities. One: she knew all along that Hades's deal hinged on her remaining uninjured. In which case, she should have just given herself a minor injury and Herc's super-powers would have been restored. Thus making her a jackass for not doing something so simple. Or two: she only now realized that Hades's deal hinged on her remaining uninjured, even though Hades was pretty upfront about it. In which case she is the stupidest person alive (next to Hades) and thus I feel no sympathy for her imminent death.

Which is she, movie: asshole or retard? Take your pick.

Anyway, the dying Meg finally admits that she's in love with him. Too bad the movie's exhausted my ability to give a damn, or this might have been potentially touching. She urges him to go after Hades, and after a few more words, he mounts Pegasus and rides off.

Speaking of which, we see the gods being dragged off in chains. Well, we already shat on the mortal heroes of Greek Mythology; best do it to the immortal ones too. Zeus gives a few impotent threats, but Hades dismisses them. And then Hercules shows up. At Mt. Olympus.

You know, that place that he's not allowed to go to! Now to be fair, Zeus does say that he's not allowed to "live" there, so it could be that it's a time-based issue. But even if that's true, why don't Hera and Zeus invite their son up for tea or an afternoon visit or something? Why is it that he only ever talks to his father in that temple? If he's able to hang around for short periods of time, well, why doesn't he?

Anyway, Herc cuts the chains on a few of the gods, which through the power of... the plot causes their chains to disintegrate. Hades orders the Elementals to attack Herc, but Pegasus is too fast for the Molten Lava Elemental to hit and he hits Hades instead. Hades orders the Ice Elemental to attack next, who directly hits Herc and Pegasus, but this does not freeze them, as it would resolve the plot. Oh, and Hades gets hit again.

Because what this epic battle against ancient forces of elemental chaos needs is Komedy!

Anyway, while Hades is locked down, Herc breaks Zeus out. This scares Hades for some reason, even though by all rights, it should mean nothing. After all, the Elementals face-stomped the gods easily enough five minutes ago. And all without Hades's Patton-like leadership.

Hephaestus gives Zeus a fresh batch of lightning bolts, which he can only have pulled out of his ass, since he was in chains twenty seconds ago. Remember how Zeus's lightning did squat against the Earth Elemental before? Now all of a suddenly, it's super effective. After Hades kills the threat level of the film some more, the Air Elemental approaches Hercules.

Naturally, he grabs the tornado, picks up the other Elementals, and hurls them into space, where they explode. You know, this is one of those moments that could have been awesome, if the movie had not exhausted my patience three times over by now. It's the kind of moment that mythology exists to deliver, but you need to have the audience with you to make it work. Because it really doesn't work if they question it even slightly.

The Rule of Cool doesn't work if the audience doesn't care enough to Willingly Suspend their Disbelief. Pro-tip.

Oh, and there's the fact that he just killed the Titans, when the best Zeus could do is lock them away. And all this with only demi-god-level powers.

I think I have enough evidence to say it legitimately now: Hercules in this film is a Mary Sue* . There is a clear and prolonged pattern of Hercules in this film being given favors by the writers. Ignoring his origins, he instantly and almost effortlessly becomes the darling of the Greek world. He has women hanging off of him day and night. His enemies can't even execute a simple deal without screwing it up so badly that they undermine their own plans. He was able to summon his super-strength when he was supposed to be depowered, and while fully mortal he survived stuff that would have killed hundreds. And he's able to do what people who are ostensibly more powerful than him never could.

And we're not done yet.

Hades rides off, saying that while Herc won, he reminds Herc of Meg. Herc races to her side, but we see the Fates pull out a thread, ominously approach it with scissors, and cut it before he gets there.

No last words? In a Disney film? OK, chances of her staying dead are... let's just say they're low.

Cut to Tartarus, where Hades is blustering and raging. Hercules interrupts this as he comes riding in on Cerberus. Again, something that could have been awesome if I could summon the will to give a damn. He demands to know where Meg is. Hades is surprisingly blasť about this and decides to show Herc the well of souls.

He just so happens to see Meg's soul there, but reaching for it through the green water causes his hands to wither. So Herc decides to offer a trade: his soul for hers. Hades changes that to if he can get her out, then he stays. So he jumps in. Then Hades points out that he'll die before he can reach her.

Sure enough, he starts to wither and age. We even get a cut to the Fates pulling out his thread, ominously approaching it with scissors. Just as he gets to Meg's spirit, the Fates cut his thread. But it starts glowing gold and won't cut.

OK, when the Fates were first introduced, they pointed out very clearly that they could see the future. They already know what was going to happen from the moment Herc jumped into the pool. So why the hell would they even bother trying to cut the thread, when they knew that he was going to spontaneously manifest his godhood? The whole point of having the Fates here was to convince the audience that the writers might actually kill off Herc right here. But that was all predicated on the Fates knowing the future, which they can't possibly be very good at if they didn't see this one coming.

I'm going to hold off on talking about how this resolution of the plot sucks until the movie deigns to explain it.

So we see Herc pull himself out of the water with Meg's spirit, and he's glowing now. We get P&P needlessly telling us that Herc is a god now. Somehow, this means that the deal with Hades is off and he can just walk out with her spirit without giving him his in return. Right, and I guess if he wants to take the sun from Apollo, that's fine too. It's not like the Pantheon is divided into domains where certain gods have rights over certain parts of nature or anything.

Hades tries to get Herc to put in a good word with Zeus. Why, I have no idea. OK, I do have an idea; it's a lame-ass excuse for Herc to get mad at Hades and punch him into the well of souls, where the random spirits attack him and carry him off into the water.

Because I'm sure nothing bad will happen if the Lord of the Dead isn't doing his job. It's not like it was anything important or something.

Herc puts Meg's spirit back into her body, which instantly heals her shattered vertebrae and crushed ribs. He admits that he's in love with her, and they kiss. Zeus sends down a fluffy cloud for them and brings them up into heaven.

There is no sign of the recent invasion by elemental chaos monsters (good continuity). The gods and goddesses are gathered around, applauding Hercules upon his arrival. He approaches his parents, who tell them that they're proud of him. Hera and Zeus then are kind enough to explain what happened. And I quote:

Hera: You were willing to give your life to rescue this young woman.
Zeus: For a true hero isn't measured by the size of his strength. But by the strength of his heart.

Wow. Just wow. I stand in amazement at the level of bullshit this creates. First, this has nothing to do with the "going the distance" motif, thus killing that dead. This is neither figurative nor literal at this point, as Herc didn't have to actually go any distance. He didn't have to touch Meg's spirit to become a "true hero;" all he had to do was make some effort and die trying.

But that's just a peripheral issue. The central problem is really quite simple.

Hercules was already willing to give his life to save people before now!

Let's ignore the Hydra fight and the entire hero montage. Let's just go straight to the fight against the Cyclops. There's Hercules, with Meg. All he has to do to live is to just stand there and do nothing. And he knows, he knows, if he accepts that challenge, the Cyclops will kill him. He doesn't have his super-strength. He's got nothing to deal with a hundred foot monster running around destroying buildings.

But he does it anyway. Why? To save lives. He was willing to die to save them.

There are exactly two differences between going after Meg and standing up to the Cyclops. Therefore, one of these two differences must be the real reason why it didn't trigger when he took that act (besides inhumanly bad writing).

Difference one: Herc is in love with Meg. If this is the reason, then that means that "the strength of his heart" really means "the power of love."

I personally find this idea despicable. Herc going out to try to save thousands, knowing full well that he won't succeed, isn't enough. No, it has to be someone he loves or it doesn't count. Those people are just statistics, right? Allow me to quote from earlier in the movie, "Anyway, what do you owe these people? Isn't Meg [...] isn't she more important than they are?"

Who was it that said that? Oh that's right, Hades, THE VILLAIN! You know, the one offering the sadistic choice.

So under this reasoning, being willing to die for thousands of people you've never met is nothing compared to being willing to die for some girl you've known for an afternoon.

Difference two: Herc actually technically died trying to save Meg. And if this is the reason, then if Herc had simply been eaten by the Cyclops, he would have become a god right then.

Under this logic, you're not a "true hero" until you can claim that title posthumously. I... I don't even know what to say to that idea; the idiocy of it really speaks for itself. Even moreso when Phil's problem is that all his heroes kept dying on him, and thus not "going the distance" somehow. Which not only doesn't work with that repeated motif, it actively sabotages it, as becoming a "true hero" requires failing to "go the distance."

So yeah, this is all exceedingly stupid.

Back to the film. Meg watches Herc be welcomed into fluffy cloud heaven. She turns and walks away. I have no idea how she planned on getting back down, since they came on Zeus's purple cloud. Herc notices this. And, because this is a Disney movie, he asks to stay with her on Earth. Zeus understands and takes away his godhood.

Thus making the entire purpose of the movie, the very goal the main character was trying to achieve, entirely irrelevant. Herc went "the distance," but turned right around after he got there.

Cut to the... not again. I'd forgotten. I'd actually forgotten that the damned gospel choir was in the movie. They sing over one last montage of the ending, where Herc rejoins the world. Phil gets his happy ending when Zeus rewrites the stars to draw Herc in the sky. Goody. Meg and Pegasus make up. Herc sees Ma and Pa Kent. And Glurge is had by all.