There is no tale more beautiful, no story more telling of humanity’s earthbound struggles, than that of two brothers, locked in eternal conflict as they embark on a rage quest to see which one can murder the other first and dominate the woman they’ve each claimed as their own.
I never had a brother. I am a brother, but just to sisters. Even though I sometimes pine for the brotherly experiences I never had—learning to talk to girls, standing up to bullies, taking a punch—I can’t say that I’m sorry to have missed getting beaten up on, blamed for problems he’d have caused, or exiled to Egypt on pain of death for returning.
Most of my friends growing up, and even now, are brotherless—either having sisters or being only children. I wonder if the brotherless attract each other. I wonder if I started a band called The Brotherless if they would go platinum. Probably.
It’s easy to understand why two men with nearly identical genetic coding and a similar upbringing under the same roof where they’ve been together their whole lives would want to travel across oceans to violently murder one another, and also why they had similar taste in girls.
This examination of the “brother dynamic” seems to be the core theme of Hercules: The Legend Begins. Holding true to the complex threads of this Olympian legend, twenty-eight-year-old Hercules and his twin brother, Iphicles, are the sons of thirty-seven-year-old Amphitryon, king of Tiryns.
Hercules does eventually come to accept that he is the son of Zeus, so, true to the mythology, Amphitryon is not his father and Iphicles is merely his half-brother. Which, of course makes Hercules Brotherless, making him an invaluable asset to the band (clearly the drummer).
From this trailer, we can see that the film is centered around Herculean legend and the hero’s origins, but takes many liberties, which is a word derived from the latin liber, meaning “having freedom” and tus, meaning “fuck you Edith Hamilton.”
Director Renny Harlin borrows elements from the original mythology, such as characters’ names and also maybe the names of some of the countries they visit, like “Egypt.” But having established his auteurship with a bountiful career of original works such as Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Die Hard 2, and The Exorcist: The Beginning, Harlin is able to abandon this dull retelling of classic Herculean myth into a more exciting retelling of modern classical myths such as Braveheart, 300, and Gladiator.
Rather than Hercules evolving through his human failings, his twelve labours, and the countless fascinating interactions he has with a rich pool of characters from some of the most beautiful mythology ever written, Harlin gives us a more relatable character whose journey teaches him to keep stabbing things until all his problems are solved.
These liberties are not limited to the mythology itself, either. Hercules unabashedly breaks down the restrictive walls society has erected out of its concrete mix of “historical fact” and “cultural identity,” a weak and insubstantial structure when pitted against the strength of a half-god.
The mighty Hercules, even without his Spartan armor, annihilates his foes in gladiatorial combat, spitting in the face of centuries of academic studies, and defying even a cursory Google search which assures us that gladiator fights were a strictly Roman pastime. He also leads an unstoppable army against the oppressive rules of basic human biology, and impales his combatants with such furious strength, that their very blood is afraid to leave their bodies.
True to the mythology of each one of our own lives, the greatest challenge Hercules will face is love. Maybe the reason Hercules was such a violent, murderous beast is because he never recognized the love he had all along: the love of a brother.
Sure he was a villainous, girlfriend-stealing dick, but that’s what brothers are, even half-brothers! They take your toys, beat you up, and sell you off to be a rower in the thalamite galley of a trireme. If only Hercules had the intellect of a half-god, and not just the strength, he could understand that once and for all, and finally ascend to join his true brothers on the godly steps of Mount Olympus.
Of course, he’ll be kicked out of the band immediately.