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01 February 2014

The Legend of Hercules (Film Criticism): “The Cult of the Perfect Male Body”

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In the television series, “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys,” starring Kevin Sorbo, Sorbo hardly ever took off his shirt and he was usually adequately dressed, which was convenient because he had to do all those weekly dangerous adventures. It is really not sexy when you can be easily bruised and lacerated just because you want to show off your fine physique. Plus, if you are scantily clad, the possibility of wardrobe malfunction is quite high. 

Top: Kevin Sorbo in TV’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.”
Middle: Russell Crowe in “Gladiator.”
Bottom: Kellan Lutz as the new Hercules.
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However, ever since the popularity of Zack Snyder’s “300,” featuring countless masculine bare-chested men with six to eight-pack abs and clad in leather underwear, Greek and Roman heroes have become more about the perfect body than heroism. 

In Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator” starring Russell Crowe in the role of Maximus. Maximus was muscular but his body looked like it was sculpted in fierce and strenuous battles. Maximus’ strength did not just lie on his physique but in his strength of character, outstandingly brought to life by Russell Crowe. 

In “The Legend of Hercules,” this latest Hercules (Kellan Lutz) looked more as if he spent hours in the gym than in battle.  Highlighting the perfect male physique is not new. Tarsem Singh also did the same in “Immortal” starring Henry Cavill, but Singh is more about the visual stylistics than just eye candy, and “Immortal” had quite an outstanding cast, which includes the unapologetically terrifying Mickey Rourke.  In addition, Singh had a point to make. (Read “Immortal” review)

In contrast, “The Legend of Hercules” is purely popcorn entertainment and eye candy for the girls and boys.  And like popcorn, it is your fault if you look for nutrition in it and you cannot find some. In some degree, “The Legend of Hercules” lets go of “the male gaze.”  The woman is not the only one undressed, the male hero is exposed as well, and so much more. The male is projected as a sexual object by highlighting his chiseled physique, wet and dry, clean and sweaty.  Some female audience members did comment about the awesomeness of Lutz’s body. However, we cannot entirely say the “male gaze” is abandoned and replaced by the “female gaze.” The “male gaze” might have just been slightly readjusted and sneakily turned into “the homoerotic gaze,” but that depends on your reading of the film. 

Legendary heroes with perfect bodies:
King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) of “300.”
A wet Hercules (Kellan Lutz), and
Theseus (Henry Cavill) of “Immortal.”

Still, “The Legend of Hercules” is a perfect example of the modern cult of the perfect male body.  I used to go to the gym as well, and the assumption that most of the men in the gym are gays is false. More heterosexual men also littered the gym and they aspire for that “300” body or that Man of Steel physique, if not, just the UFC body type. We do this not solely to lure people into our spider web; most of it is attributed to pride. Being admired for your perfect body has a “divining effect.” You feel you are superior to other men, especially if you sculpted your body in the gym.  

At the wet market near my office, the rice deliverymen also have muscular bodies because they had to carry sacks of rice every day, but as one friend sardonically noted, “those are laborers' bodies, like poverty six-pack abs.”  “Poverty abs” is tight lean abs because the man is poor and has little to eat.

My friend’s declaration is more of an attack on the class system in the country than an insult to the hardworking rice deliverymen.

Yes, if you have a perfect body shaped in the gym, it means that you have the means and the extra time to waste. Indeed, you are “gods, or like Hercules, half-gods among men", among lower class men to be precise. 

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