I first saw this movie on TV as a kid though I only vaguely remember it. It was just something I caught one day that caught and kept my attention. I honestly forgot it was a Hercules' Legendary Journeys movie until I popped it in the ol' DVD player and the film started. Even watching it now (in the context of being a fan of the series and it's spin-offs) it's still something that kept my attention. The plot of this film is pretty basic to the Herc (and later Xena) formula. Hercules is asked by a scared villager to come save his village from a beast in what will become the "Villain of the week" style. Iolaus, due to be married (what happened to the wife? When did he have a wife?) decides to accompany Hercules on this one last mission before committing to his wife and gets killed by the beast who turn out to be (drum roll please) WOMEN. Amazon Women, who apparently keep these weak little men like cattle entrapped in their small village for the purpose of breeding. They keep the girl children and drop the boys off at the riverside for the Men to pick up. Despite Hercules' best buddy getting murdered and Hercules himeslf being captured by the Amazons and essentially humiliated by this tribe of women, he falls for the queen and eventually convinces her that men aren't as bad as she believes. In turn, the bumbling men of the village convince the rest of the Amazon's of the same thing. And Zeus, ever the philanderer (hey, we get to see where Ares gets it from) cast quite a spell over Lysia (Lucy Lawless) one of the most hard nosed "anti-men" Amazons of the bunch. But Hera isn't happy that her "chosen" warrior women are getting more than, well, breeding from the chosen cattle of breeding partners. So she takes over the body of the Queen, forcing a fight between Hercules and his love-of-the-week. To say the least, things go bad and Hercules ask daddy to fix it and he does (saving Herc's buddy from the death in the process).
The characters of Hercules & Iolaus were nicely established here. Though they hardly ever had the emotional power as a pair that Xena and Gabrielle did, they are really fun to watch together. You buy the fact that they're old friends and grew up together. I adored the completely adorable flashback scene with the two as small boys training at a pre-academy of a sort. It's funny to me that in "Young Hercules" (the movie) they aren't initally friends (even though they obviously know each other). It's possible when Iolaus got involved with his gang and developed a fondness for illegal activity there was a parting of the ways. They have known each other since childhood after all and sometimes you fall in and out with your friends. It's not a continuity issue, but you wonder how little boys so close got so far away as teenagers. All in all, I forgot how much I liked Iolaus until I started re-watching Hercules. Even in the eps he carried on his own, he was a joy to watch. It was sad he died so early in the story.
Hercules himself is established as a generally good man, but with some very sexist views. At one point (after being attacked by a beast sent after him by Hera) he declares that "this is what happens when woman gets too much power". It seems unusual for Hercules to say this when obviously his mother is someone who's had to get by on her own and pretty much raised him alone as Zeus wasn't really there. Still, with him in the limelight as Zeus' favorite son you can see how he would have developed these views from his dad. I have to wonder when Zeus became a regular visitor in Alcmene and his son's life as Young Hercules (both the movie and TV show) establish a Hercules and Alcmene very much abandoned by Zeus once he, well, had his good time and made a baby. But this movie alone would make you think the guy was around a lot or at least enough that his young son would have known him when he was looking at him. But Young Hercules always had such a hunger for his father's attention, I could see him embracing easily this kind of relationship even if he didn't really know him until he reached adulthood. As Herc accepts that women deserve equality very easily (after meeting the Amazon queen) and shows sympathy for the reasons they've divided from the men he overcomes any early sexist-seeming (Zeus influenced) ideas early on. Hera appears only as a "force of evil". Despite not having a human-like form, she's pretty much the active Villain in Hercules life for not only the majority of the movies, but the start of the series. Hera works better as a "force of evil" so I like that she's never fully formed in a human form where as Zues (by contrast) is seen as very human. Speaking of Zeus - I know everyone loves Anthony Quinn's Zeus - I, however, don't like that he's so old. I mean brilliant actor, great charisma and all that, but Zeus is suppose to be an ageless being and I thought Quinn just looked too old. Of course, it is adorable how he gets on with and breaks through the shell that is the hard-nosed Amazon Lysia, but I would have liked a younger Zeus who, at most, looked a handful of years older than Hercules.
The Amazons (my loves) are well done for the most part. This first appearance establish a lot of who they will be through the entire Hercules/Xena-verse. Things like the disguise of Animal Mask, a fondness for tree climbing, and movements that focus on swiftness and agility. It actually makes sense, since male warriors are known for the "might" factor (basically the biggest muscle wins in the end) that Amazons as women would focus on agility and swiftness and use weapons that capture and bind their opponent at a distance. These are things that can render muscle itself useless. This is what made Xena very different then Amazons. Xena was uber butch and seemed into usng muscle where as Amazon fighting styles seem built to defeat the warrior dependent on such moves. Luckily Xena was smart and adopted every new fighting style she came across into her "skill bag". Unfortunately, there isn't much fighting to be done by the Amazons as the men of the village are not in any way, shape, or form fighters. It's kind of weird how unbalanced it all is. Not because the men are all, well, weak, but because they are all these plain-ol average joe types. By contrast, nearly all the Amazons are not only brilliant warriors, but breathtakingly gorgeous women. You'd think there would be at least one plain jane in the lot.
Chief among the beautys is the initially vicious and cold-hearted Lysia played by the incredible Lucy Lawless. Lucy Lawless is a brilliant actress and it's no wonder she made such a splash as Xena. Even watching her here you can see the strength to carry a series in her. It's hard to believe she was second choice to be so. What's weird is, despite Lysia being this warrior chick with a chip on her shoulder she's NOTHING like Xena. There's not a bit of Xena in her. If anything, I'm reminded of Amarice (Xenaverse) when I see her here. Speaking of Xenaverse, I sqeed for joy when I saw the kid who would later play Xena's son Solan among the male village youth. And (quite a shock to me) the actor who played Hower in the classic Xena episode "A Day in the Life" is among the "average joe" village men. As a fan of Young Herc though, I am astounded at how much they did in that series that contradicted Big Herc. In Young Hercules, Herc (along with Iolaus) not only knew a tribe of Amazons, but dated an Amazon Queen before. Not to mention Hercules attended Chiron's Academy with not one, but two female warriors (Lilith from the series and Yvenna in the Young Herc movie). At least one of these women (Lilith) trained with Amazons as well as at the Academy. Iolaus sheer surprise at seeing "women" who were so obviously an Amazon tribe of some sort seems out of sync with the fact that as a boy he knew a whole tribe of Amazon women. But again, this is a flaw of Young Herc's inattentiveness to continuity.
It also bothers me (very slightly, not powerfully) in the wide scope of both series that Hera is played as the "Goddess of the Amazons" in this film. According to the Xenaverse Artemis (Warrior Goddess of the Hunt) is the chosen God of worship for the Amazons. It is perhaps possible that all Amazon's don't worship the same goddess. And seeing as most of the Amazon tribe's we see later are not keeping an enclosed cattle of men for breeding purposes, the women in this movie may be Hera's "special" group of Amazons and Hera's own corrupted version of Amazonian tribalness (is that a word?). As according to Xena's "Lifeblood" and "Kindred spirits" episodes, the absence of men among the original Amazons was because they were all Killed (forcing the remaining women to become warriors in their absence) and deciding to no longer "take men as members of their tribe" was an act of honor to the dead males of the tribe. Of course, it's been stated many times throughout the series' trilogy of shows that there was a break among the Amazons and a scattering of tribes resulted. As Young Hercules' Cyanne said once when speaking about the Amazons and their ways "I only speak for my own tribe of course" and she herself was at war with another Amazonian tribe at one point.
All in all, despite some head scratching moments (continutity wise), I loved this movie.