I’ve never heard someone actually use the phrase “never meet your heroes” except in pop culture when someone says “they say never meet your heroes.” But no matter who said it first, it’s true in this moment. As long as you interpret the phrase to also mean “don’t watch movies about heroes that you liked as a kid.” It’s so bad. I was aiming for a happy medium between how disappointed I was about what was wrong with NSync, and how I had no idea how right I was about Titanic. Hercules was a solid middle ground. I hadn’t seen it in a few years, and I certainly hadn’t watched it since I begun my critical analysis. This movie was ripe for a blog, and I knew some of what I was going to talk about. But man oh man, I had no idea just how ripe it was. It was like a banana that had that perfect mix of bright yellow with brown speckled dots. Not a bit of green anywhere on it, and no brown mush either. Definitely not the artificial banana flavor they give to candy, that stuff is gross. This is getting weird, I don’t know why I’ve spent so long talking about bananas. Sorry, I’ll move on.
Among the many interests my father instilled in me was a love of mythology of all kinds. He gave me books on Coyote, High John, and Anansi, because as a child I was drawn to tricksters. But one of the first books I remember my father giving me was a large, full color children’s book of Greek myths. So it was with that mindset that I watched Hercules, so of course I was disappointed. Disney managed to cram a Greek myth into a Judeo-Christian mold with a Jesus complex, for crying out loud. And what a Judeo-Christian model it was. A gospel choir, the son of God raised by simple folk who gains the adoration of the populace with his many works, who fights the lord of the underworld and his demons. Wow. Just . . . wow.
First things first, this movie portrays Hercules as the child of a loving union between Zeus and Hera. That’s so off it would be like saying Bruce Wayne learned to be Batman from his father. It couldn’t be more wrong, and changing the origin story like that changes the entire nature of the tale. Hercules was the product of Zeus’ infidelity with the mortal woman Alcmene, resulting in Hera hating Hercules all his life. It was Hera, not Hades, who was the primary antagonist of Hercules’ life. She drove him mad, causing him to murder his children with Megara. Meg was later given in marriage to another hero, and Hercules married several more times.
Most of Hercules’ heroic deeds were actually done as punishment for murdering his children. The Augean stables that Phil jokingly tells Hercules about in the movie, the slaying of the Nemean Lion, even killing the Hydra. All played as Hercules wanting to become a true hero and regain his godhood rather than acts of contrition for a man who murdered his children. Obviously, I understand Disney couldn’t show Hercules murdering his family, but there had to be a better way than “Hercules wants to make his daddy proud.”
At no point in the myth of Hercules does he ever interact with Hades. The only Titan he meets is Prometheus, when Hercules frees Prometheus from his imprisonment by Zeus, and Atlas during a contest of strength and wit. There was no major combat with Titans who are made up of elemental forces. Oh, and let’s talk Pegasus. Pegasus sprung from the decapitated neck of Medusa and helped Belleraphon fight the Chimera. At no point did he meet Hercules, and there was definitely no moment where he was a Disney animal that wasn’t a dog but acted like a dog.
Whenever I watch “It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” I laugh to myself because Danny Devito has done kids movies. He voice acted in Space Jam and Hercules, and did family friendly movies like “Twins” with Arnold Schwarzeneggar. All those didn’t seem to really lead to playing Frank Reynolds, until I watched Hercules again. Devito’s character Phil is awful. Like, super awful. We first meet Phil when he’s spying on three nymphs bathing in a pool. The secondary protagonist of this movie, the man helping Hercules on his archetypal Hero’s Journey, is a sexual deviant. And it doesn’t get better. We first meet Megara as a damsel in distress. She’s been tasked to recruit a water elemental in the form of a centaur, and instead of joining Hades, this centaur is trying to rape Meg (which coincidentally, is the most mythologically accurate part of the whole movie). Hercules does his amateur hero thing and sets Meg to the side while he engages the centaur, and what does Phil do? Phil aggressively hits on Meg. The girl who was just rescued from a sexual assault and attempted rape. And Disney plays it for laughs. Usually Disney leaves it to their villains to be kind of rapey, but no, this is a hero. This is the guy that taught our main character how to be good, and he just tried to fuck a girl who hasn’t even gotten ten feet away from her would be rapist. The fuck, Disney?
Keeping with the harmful sexual imagery of this movie, let’s talk about Meg, the sassy strong female protagonist (aka the only named female with more than a couple lines). She’s the strong female lead who spends the entire movie either bitter about a guy, being ordered around by a different guy, or pining over a guy. Every moment of Meg’s character development relies on a guy, but we’re supposed to believe she’s a strong female because… why? Because she’s got an attitude and keeps Hercules on his toes? She falls into the “female temptress” role because Hades orders her to, and then becomes the “damsel in distress” because Hades recognizes that she is Hercules’ only weakness. She’s the most one dimensional character in an entire movie where there are gods that represent single human emotions.
Brilliant writer Gail Simone came up with the term “fridging” when describing women who are killed just to provide motivation for a male hero. She made a list, available at http://lby3.com/wir/women.html, of women in comic books who die, are brutalized, or lose their powers in order to motivate a male hero. The term comes from when Kyle Rayner took over as Green Lantern of Earth, and supervillain Major Force killed Kyle’s girlfriend by folding her up and shoving her into a refrigerator. It’s a common enough theme in comics that Major Force even tries it again by pretending to do the same thing to Kyle’s mom. But don’t worry, Kyle’s mom doesn’t survive. Sinestro Corps member Despotellis kills her so Sinestro can punish Kyle and weaken him enough to be possessed by Parallax. Women in pop culture are constantly used simply to affect men rather than being fleshed out and developed on their own. The same thing happens in Hercules. He makes a deal with Hades to give up his powers and not get involved in the upcoming battle “as long as Meg doesn’t get hurt.” During the chaos, of course Meg gets hurt and Hercules gets his powers back. He saves the day, rescuing the gods and protecting Olympus fro the Titans, then makes it back just in time to watch Meg die. They fridged Meg. He heads down into Hades, his only thought is to rescue her, and in attempting to sacrifice himself during the rescue, he achieves his destiny and regains his godhood. Ugh. Fucking ugh.
I don’t want to finish it on that note. You want jokes, I want jokes, and I don’t want this entry to end so badly. So my last question is pretty simple. How stupid and useless is Zeus? He’s supposed to be the King of the Gods, but not only is he a dopey moron, he also doesn’t seem that strong. Hell, we find out in a prophecy at the start of the movie that Hercules is the only one who can save Olympus even after he loses his godhood and only has superhuman strength. But it isn’t just being kind of useless that bugs me about Zeus, it’s that he’s just SO stupid!
How could he possibly not know that Hades is evil? I accept that it’s a Christian framework for a Greek myth, but if you’re going to create that world for us, follow your own rules. But even if God doesn’t know the Devil is evil, he has to be completely stupid to miss all the aggressively snarky comments Hades makes. Hell, Hades gives a bone with spikes jammed into it to a baby as a sucker. And Zeus couldn’t think “oh, Hades has never been around babies, he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do!” It’s spikes. For a baby’s mouth. Hades is evil, and isn’t even very subtle about it.
Next, every single God lives on Olympus except Hades. The Titans are locked up and if they ever weren’t, would immediately march on Olympus. So when Baby Hercules suddenly disappears and then becomes mortal, that investigation should probably take about four seconds. “Hey, is anybody not here right now? Only Hades? I’ll bet Hades stole my baby! And come to think of it, wasn’t he also saying pretty suggestively mean things about this baby earlier tonight? Let’s go investigate!” But nope. Just a lot of sad looking around, and a “you’re adopted and not really from here” reveal that puts Ma and Pa Kent to shame. Oh yeah, because this is also kind of the story of Superman from Man of Steel. A child from the stars sent away, raised by farmers, learns of his heritage from an automaton of his father and has to defeat an evil from his homeworld. He falls in love with a woman from his adopted world and chooses to stay with her. Yikes.
And I can’t say this enough times: Hades is OBVIOUSLY evil. I don’t like to use looks as a measure of someone’s true nature, but I think we can probably guess that the one god who isn’t a glowing neon color, has sharp yellow teeth, and is partially made of fire, might be a bad guy. His minions are two demons and a three headed hellhound, and he’s abusive to everyone around him. How do you not know this is the bad guy? I accept that you want to believe the best of your brother, but Abel wanted the same thing and look where that got him?
In retrospect, this movie was probably closer to NSync than it was Titanic. I expected it to be not great, but I had no idea just how not great it was. I think next week I might have to do a positive review of something, this is getting exhausting and sad.
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