“Curse the god. Slay the beast.”
Directed by Jonathan English
Starring Tom Hardy, Rutger Hauer, Ingrid Pitt, Tony Todd
It’s the Iron Age, or maybe the Bronze Age, and the powerful but decadent Minoan civilisation is collecting youths to sacrifice to the Minotaur, a big monster that lives in an underground labyrinth. Humble shepherd Theo (Tom Hardy) is upset because his love interest was sent to be eaten, but his dad (Rutger Hauer) is more worried about protecting him. When the Minoans show up, however, Theo sneaks into the tribute line and is dumped into the labyrinth together with a well-meaning sidekick, a sneering rival who does a predictable face turn, the sneering rival’s love interest, a mouthy girl, a girl who doesn’t talk at all, a crazy girl and a comedy fat guy. And maybe someone else, who knows.
Minoan queen Raphaella takes a fancy to Theo and tries to help him fight the Minotaur. Spoilers: the good guys win.
What’s wrong with it?
It’s bizarre, but not bizarre enough to really be interesting — like, the Minoan sets and costumes are clearly going for a kind of Tarsem-Singh-a-like weirdness, which could potentially be fun to look at, but the story ends up being 50% Theo and his fellow greasy idiots running around in a cave. It’s just a monster chase movie with some fake mythological gravitas riveted on. And the changes from the myth almost always serve to make the story less weird and unfamiliar.
What’s right with it?
Its half-hearted strivings toward originality show that there was somebody in there at some point who had an idea, but it all just gets buried in a wash of by-the-numbers chasing. I mean, Tom Hardy is a good actor, but he’s got nothing to work with; he’s playing a by-the-number action hero with no real personality.
How bad is it really?
It’s just goofy and inexplicable. Like, the characters spend a lot of time debating whether or not the minotaur is real, despite the fact that they have seen it. I think they’re actually arguing over whether it’s a god or not? Which seems like a strange conversation to be having when it’s trying to kill you. Or, for instance, Raphaella reveals that she got in touch with the local sort of witch in Theo’s village (Ingrid Pitt in a heavily-made-up cameo) to find a hero able to slay the Minotaur, when there’s nothing to suggest that it’s anything other than a really big bull. I guess all of her armoured soldiers are just super intimidated. It just seems like a really roundabout way to go about it.
Best bit (if such there is)?
King Deucalion (Tony Todd, overacting like mad), huffs intoxicating fumes out of a sheep skull. Later on, Theo discovers the love interest’s corpse, apparently brought low by poisonous fumes. He deduces that there’s a natural gas vent and uses the gas to light the minotaur on fire. That’s quite clever. It also ties in to the idea that the Delphic Oracle got her visions from inhaling gas fumes.
What’s up with…?
- Theo (Theseus) coming from a tiny, snowbound mountain village instead of, say, Athens? They even set up his dad as a character but leave out the whole killing-himself thing. I guess cities are expensive.
- The Minoans being black? On the one hand, yay for more diversity in filmmaking, but boo for portraying them as animalistic primitives. I swear the courtiers and handmaidens are walking all hunched over like apes. It’s a bit …
- The minotaur just being a big mutated-looking bull? I think the classic minotaur is a pretty good monster design myself.
[each out of 20]
Production values – The budget on this thing was apparently $7 million, and it shows not so much in the raggedy costumes as in the repetitive brown cave setting. Still, the Minoan costumes are nice and weird, if derivative. 12.
Dialogue and performances – A couple of reliable hacks, a star-to-be and a whole lot of who-gives-a-shit. 14.
Plot and execution – The perfect storm of plodding linearity and mushy incoherence. 17.
Randomness – Once you have Tony Todd in a rubber skirt huffing fumes out of a sheep skull … 18.
Waste of potential – Some good actors and a classic story. But $7 million and shot in Luxembourg. 14.