Great Character Moments: Hades – Lord of the Underworld in Hercules (1997)
Character: Hades – Lord of the Underworld
Actor: James Woods (Voice)
Film: Disney’s Hercules
Role: The quick-tempered, fiery brother of Zeus and ruler of the Dead, committed to overthrowing his brother by vanquishing his son.
Hades got the short end of the stick from the start, and despite being in control of the souls of the dead, longs to be in the clouds of Olympus, ruling over the living like his brother Zeus. Meanwhile, his blue-fire hair wriggles about in perpetual flame, shifting colors as the various stages of anger comes and go in a blink. His two main minions, Pain (Bobcat Goldthwait) and Panic (Matt Frewer) are, let’s say, less than fully equipped to be evil, and remain a constant source of aggravation for their boss, who, when given the task of kidnapping the baby-god Hercules and making it drink a potion that would render him mortal, screw that up by not giving him every last drop (as per directed), has resorted to a number of nefarious schemes to unseat Zeus and destroy his son Hercules. One such plan is the use of a fair maiden named Megara (Susan Egan) to lure him to his demise, but even that plan backfires when she becomes smitten with the soon to be god and betrays Hades, whom she had previous sold her soul.
The Moment: Hades, growing ever more desperate to kill Hercules and conquer Olympus, turns to the Titans, a powerful collection of enormous beasts who capture the gods while a massive cyclops battles Hercules. In this epic fight, Meg is crushed to death when she pushes Hercules out from under a falling stone pillar. Her soul, owned by Hades, heads his way. Hercules, who is on a quest to be true hero in order to become a god on Olympus, confronts Hades on his own turf and demands he let her go. This aggressive attitude doesn’t phase the overlord in the slightest, and offers to show the young man about the place. He leads him to a rocky cave with a view of the churning River Styx, which leads the condemned to their fateful eternity. There on the surface, still fresh for her demise, is Meg, eyes closed with all the others who have passed on, spinning in a sickly green goo as they swirl their way down to Hell. Hercules reaches for her but the water withers his skin and bones when exposed to the damning liquid. He then makes a proposition of Hades. He will offer himself in her place, to which he readily agrees if Hercules can get her out. Of course he does, and in the process, earns the role of hero and is transformed into a god, which isn’t exactly what Hades intended. While it initially infuriates him, as most things do, he quickly changes his tune and tries to get on the new god’s good side, but that fails also and he is punched straight up into the air and into his own river where he is carried away.
Why It Matters: Being a Disney film, and Hades being the villain, there is a lot of fun to be had with the character as there is little doubt going in as to what his fate will be. James Woods is clearly having some fun here taking on a fast-talking car dealer persona, and the decision to make Hades a snarky, ill-tempered fool is the right one as his presence is never frightening but always humorous. Throughout the movie, whenever he is on screen, he is always a bit of a buffoon, a man with big schemes but no skills. While he has domain over the damned, he is eternally scoffed and set back by his inept henchmen. Here, we see what he believes to be his plans finally coming to fruition, thinking he at last has the upper hand with the doomed soul of Meg luring his nemesis’ son straight to his feet. That it goes horribly wrong is not unexpected, but still very satisfying. The character is drawn very well, with a long narrow face (somewhat resembling the actor), ashen skin and lots and lots of fire, which explodes and lights up the screen whenever he expresses himself, making him the most memorable character in the film. This is in no small part because of Woods, who delivers a wonderfully sardonic and slithering performance that is easily as effect as Jeremy Irons in The Lion King but is overshadowed by that film’s far better story and production.