There is something so inexplicable about the ending of The Legend of Hercules that I’ve been rolling it over in my mind for days. Let me explain.
Back in 2014, two major Hercules films were released. It was like when Deep Impact and Armageddon both came out in the same year, except instead of asteroids the focus is on pectoral muscles.
I don’t know if this was pure coincidence. Perhaps the story of Hercules had finally entered the public domain after a few thousand years. I know several millennia seems like a long time for a property to remain under copyright, but Disney really did a number on America’s intellectual property laws.
Regardless, The Legend of Hercules was dealt a major setback in that it was the Hercules movie with a noticeable lack of the Rock. I know Twilight alum Kellan Lutz is quite the heartthrob, but no one can overtake Dwayne Johnson. He’s the biggest movie star on the planet, and he may very likely be the second person to become both a WWE hall of famer and President of the United States.
Before we get to the ending of The Legend of Hercules that has confounded me so, let me walk you through the movie. Storywise, LOH manages to be equal parts 300 and Gladiator.
Knowing the depravity of her husband and king, Hercules’s mother agrees to let mythical sex pest Zeus impregnate her with a super-powered heir. Zeus doesn’t even have the courtesy to turn into a swan, but the king manages to catch his wife having relations with an unseen deity. This leads to the king’s lifelong resentment of Hercules.
Herc gets exiled to Egypt where he and his fellow troops recreate the plot of 300. One slow-down, speed-up fight battle scene later, and Herc is one of only two survivors. Despite being sold into the fighting pits, Herc still vows to return home and rescue his one true love, Hebe.
Herc manages to defeat a number of foes, including a guy with a back like a barrel of hams. Everyone in this movie is impossibly yoked. At the very least, this movie understands its most important job: clearly displaying the well-oiled flesh of men.
Hercules successfully fights his way back home through a series of successful gladiatory battles. His final fight is capped off with the crowd chanting “Hercules” in unison like so many Klumps.
Of course we know where this is all headed. The film concludes with a climactic showdown between Hercules and the evil king. Just as it seems Herc has the upper hand, his sinister half-brother enters with a dagger at Hebe’s throat. Herc freezes.
In a move that comes out of nowhere, Hebe shoves the dagger through her own chest and into the chest of her captor. What?!
Yep, just like Yoshimitsu from Tekken, Hebe runs herself through in order to deliver a killing blow. Incredible.
Herc quickly dispatches the king and rushes to the side of his dying lover. This is where things require all your attention.
Hebe is clearly dying. She just stabbed a man by plunging a dagger through her chest and back. She and Herc tearfully share parting words. The scene is dark and dramatic.
Then we cut to a warm, hazy shot of the king’s chambers. We see Hebe in bed being handed a newborn baby. Herc joins her. They smile at each other as they gaze at their child. Everything about this has the feel of those fantasy scenes from Gladiator where Maximus would dream of his deceased wife and child. This scene clearly has to be Herc envisioning the life that he lost in order to bring peace and justice to his kingdom. I feel this in my bones. The next thing we will see is Herc waking up and returning to his responsibilities as king.
It’s a sad ending for a Hercules movie, but everything about what we’ve been shown thus far is leading in that direction.
But then something shocking happens. We see Herc standing atop a fortress wall. His cape blowing in the wind, he looks out over his kingdom and smiles up at the moon. Cut to credits.
I had to rewind this last part. I’ve watched it several times now. Something about this suddenly upbeat ending caught me so off guard that it’s led me to invent a sort of game.
Think of a movie, show, or book with an ambiguous or tragic ending. Now think of the most comprehensive way to make it dumbly happy. Please feel free to play along and share your best ideas in the comments. Here are a few examples.
Cast Away… but better
Tom Hanks stands at a crossroads. After escaping a desert island, he is ready to deliver the final FedEx package that served as a symbol of hope that he’d survive. Reaching the front door of the recipient, he knocks. Looking down briefly, Hanks’s head pops up as the door opens. It’s Wilson, the blood-covered volleyball and island companion that he thought he had lost forever.
Wilson reaches into the package. Out comes a small rugby ball that closely resembles Hanks. Together at last, the new family shares an embrace.
Citizen Kane… but better
Reporter Jerry Thompson has failed to uncover the meaning behind Charles Foster Kane’s dying word: Rosebud. As he resigns himself to admitting defeat, we see Kane’s beloved childhood sled bearing the name Rosebud being thrown into a furnace.
Thompson pauses just before exiting Xanadu, the stately home of Charles Foster Kane. On the floor he finds Kane’s last will and testament. It reads, “Rosebud is my beloved childhood sled. Upon my death, please see that it is burned. Thanks a million. Signed, Big Daddy Kane.”
Moby Dick… but better
Barely clinging to the sinking wreckage of the Pequod, Ishmael shoulders a rifle and aims it at the pressurized scuba tank in the mouth of the elusive white whale. He knows he’ll only have one shot to bring down the mighty beast.
“Smile, you ambiguous metaphor open to nearly endless levels of interpretation,” he says before firing at the tank and exploding the whale.
Inception… but better
Cobb rushes outside to see his children for the first time in what seems forever. Behind he leaves his trusty top spinning on the kitchen table. It’s the one item he knows can prove whether or not he is still in the dream world, where the top never stops twirling.
The camera slowly closes in on the top as it continues rotating. The shot lingers.
Suddenly, Michael Caine’s face floods the screen. He is the actual Michael Caine and not Miles, the character he plays in Inception.
“Eees got boffa his kids back. An iss inn’t ev’n a dream. Jus’ a ‘appy endin’ one an all, innit? An that part we call the Prestige.”
The Legend of Hercules
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