Well, that was something. Something wretched.
It's often the case that, when a creator hits on something that works, their next project will involve a lot of what worked, as they don't really understand why it worked in the first place. And that's what we have here, as this film clearly owes a lot to Aladdin.
Both films use a lot of pop-culture-based humor. The difference is apparent in the degree and the way they use them. Aladdin's references come from exactly one place: Genie. Nobody else spouts anachronisms and such; it's just him. In Hercules, they are etched into the very soul of the world. Everyone
does them. Genie is voiced by Robin Williams, who is an accomplished comedian; he is capable of delivering these jokes in a way that makes them funny. In Hercules, everyone's doing it, and most of the cast are not accomplished comedians. Thus, the jokes frequently fall flat.
Their respective villains is also similar on the surface. Both villains have comic relief sidekicks, and both are trying to usurp a throne. They are both villains who are in powerful positions and are plotting in secret. But it is the differences that really show us this film's problems. Jafar is never
comic relief. If he says something funny, it will always have a cruel edge to it. He's a villain, but he's a serious
villain. He's slick, clever, resourceful, and cruel; he's evil you respect and fear. When he's on screen, the tension of a scene instantly increases.
James Woods's performance of Hades may be the highlight of the film, but it is also one of the anchors around the film's neck. Hades is quite simply not a threat. Apparently, Woods based the performance on a used-car salesman, and I can believe that. The problem is that used-car salesmen are not threatening.
And that's the biggest problem Hades has in this film: he is at all times a fop. There are no clever plans, no subtle strategies, nothing. He makes deals so badly and stupidly that it is the only reason Herc was able to win.
You never respect or fear Hades. He's just along for the ride, nothing more than a part of the plot. You remember the ham and the performance, not the character
The central theme of the movie, as established by the intro, is the nature of being a hero. And this is certainly explored. The problem is that the conclusion that this film comes to is that you can't be a true hero unless you fall in love with someone and give your life for them. Everything else is considered lesser by contrast. Being ready to die to save thousands of extras? Yeah, that doesn't count.
The film is so focused on its empty romance that it misses the real heroism of the story: Hercules being ready to die to fight the Cyclops. That would have made a far stronger statement than this tacked-on romance issue. But that bit of heroism is ignored; the film itself never emphasizes or touches on it. The moment was given no greater gravitas than any other time Herc went into battle.
This film poorly sets up themes and motifs, and almost never follows up on them. And the ones that it does are so ham-fisted that they come of very insincerely. The entire third act is an avalanche of stupidity from one character after another. The ending is wretched, the songs are terrible, the characters are bland, the romance is hollow, and I hope whoever decided that a film about a Greek Mythology hero was an appropriate place for a gospel choir is currently unemployed.
The film tries really hard. But it just can't go the distance.