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Who Took the Hero out of Hercules?

Another enlightening installment of “Young Klavan on Old Culture."

Andrew Klavan


July 29, 2014 - 2:00 pm

You wouldn’t think it possible to say something profound about a movie starring The Rock — it seems almost an offense against reason! But over at the classics website The Forum — or as I like to call it “Young Klavan on Old Culture” — my son Spencer delivers a brilliant treatise on why taking the myth out of mythology gives us, not modern profundity, but emptiness and cynicism:

Back in the day, hero myths were how Ancient Greece told the stories that America now tells in superhero comics. An unstoppable renegade throwing a destructive hissy fit then going down in a blaze of glory for the good guys: that’s Phoenix from X-Men and Achilles from the Iliad. An ordinary guy turned extraordinary champion of justice to avenge a murdered father: that’s Batman and Theseus. And the long-lost son of super-parents in the sky, raised by humans to save earth with unheard-of strength and powers? That’s Superman. That’s Hercules.

But Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules is no Superman. In this movie, all that phony supernatural stuff is for suckers, a bedtime story that Hercules perpetuates to pump up his image. Scene after smug scene, the movie knowingly debunks its mythic origins. Son of Zeus? Let the saps believe that so they’ll fear me, says The Rock. Centaurs? Please. Just dudes on horses (from far away . . . before contact lenses). “I have seen too much reality to believe the legends,” says the canny queen, Ergenia, but “the people need a hero.”

In other words: Joe Schmo needs a pretty story so he can believe in “virtue” and “heroism.” The élites know better.

Yowsa! And he’s just getting started. Read the rest of it, really. It’s all good.


Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

Andrew Klavan’s newest novel is Nightmare City.

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The ancient Greeks:

Yes, the same ancient Greeks who created the myth of a semi-divine Hercules also created the concept of a mortal Hercules turned semi-divine to bolster local prestige and religious belief.

Now I suppose you can dismiss that all as cynical Atheism, but as noted at the link, the same technique was used by Christians to dismiss pagan beliefs. (When of course they didn't adopt certain figures in under the guise of saints of course - syncretism also being an ancient Greek fad that anyone could play.)

Without appreciating that the attempted critique falls short in trying to address just how much of the fantastic is needed for "proper" movie fantasy.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
Is this the Hill Street Blues version of Hercules? Why not make him a drunk? Or die in the first scene and have a feminist magician steal his identity? A wise Greektina floating around the islands creating fake monsters and then "defeating" them with a potion that's only 4 silver drachmas, 3 for 4 or more. That'd make a good movie. And show how no one had teeth and everything smelled like rat [redacted], and "giant" towns like on Rhodes were cramped little warrens with a couple hundred people who lived on the tourism from the Colossus which was a crude 12 ft. tall wicker piece.
30 weeks ago
30 weeks ago Link To Comment
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