Everyone has either heard of or knows the legendary tales of Hercules, (or traditionally Heracles), the half-god, half-mortal son of Zeus. Not long ago, we were treated with the poorly executed Kellan Lutz version of the Greek hero, and because “The Legend of Hercules” was far from legendary, it’s not surprising that “Hercules,” directed by Brett Ratner and with Dwayne Johnson taking his turn in what is essentially a “300” style miniskirt, fares a little better than the former. But that’s not saying much given that the bar was set so low.
Based on comic books by Steve Moore, this “Hercules” recasts the hero of Greek mythology as a mercenary and con artist haunted by his past. Exiled from Athens, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) has formed a team of similarly disreputable, cynical fighters: seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), knife expert Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), bow-wielding Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), the mute orphan Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and Hercules’ young cousin Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). Facing a rebellion that threatens to tear Thrace apart, King Cotys (John Hurt) enlists Hercules to train his army and help fight the insurgent warlord Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). But Hercules gradually realizes that he may be fighting for the wrong side, and that his career as a soldier of fortune has resulted in one moral compromise too many. Consequently, the character’s inevitable journey toward righteousness proves genuinely rousing.
Despite being based on a series of comics, it is somewhat disappointing that the infamous twelve labors in the film are not myth but intertwine with the teasing nature of whether Hercules may or may not be the son of Zeus. His nephew Iolaus is responsible for telling the tales of Hercules and his legendary feats wherever they go, but he is ultimately a mere mercenary getting paid for his services. To some people, finding out that the legendary hero is a fraud, could be somewhat disheartening. We get glimpses of the famous twelve labors, but certainly nothing concrete. There is good action, and some humor, which is very welcome (especially from McShane who was the highlight of the film), but the movie ultimately fails because of its lack of a concrete narrative. Is Hercules the son of Zeus, or is he not? Why are we forced to question his lineage to begin with? Perhaps it is to cover up the fact that the story isn’t particularly inspiring in the first place, nor are the theatrical speeches and ridiculously over the top lines about heroes and fate. The labors are what Hercules is mostly famous for in Greek mythology, and to this day hasn’t been given any justice on the big screen, so this feels like a missed opportunity for a truly gritty and intense film.
If only the rest of the picture could compete with the compelling mystery behind the fate of Hercules’ family and the slippery royal intrigue at the Thracian court. Unfortunately, most of the film is devoted to repetitive battle scenes of swords slashing necks and spears piercing chests. This would have let the entire film down if they were poorly depicted, however on an action level Johnson nails it, and so does director Ratner with his choreography, making the battle scenes in this film is more than satisfactory. However the script doesn’t quite live up to the potential of the films ideas, especially those surrounding the Hercules myth building and who he really is, which results in being confounding and somewhat frustrating.
In terms of effects, some of the CGI is wonderful, and some is quite frankly terrible. The computer enhanced wide shots of the rival armies look incredibly outdated when compared to the blockbusters currently hitting theatres, such as “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.” However, when Ratner lets the extras run wild, they truly produce some great background fighting and provide the battle with better scale than any of the wide CG shots, as Dwayne Johnson’s presence is foregrounded whilst he literally clubs men off of the screen with ease. Fortunately, Johnson is dignified and entirely credible as Hercules. Although his line readings occasionally falter, he never loses command of the audience, and his size and domination of the screen make the moments of superhuman strength seem surprisingly plausible. The film surrounds him with skillful performers like McShane and Hurt who add dramatic heft and a bit of sarcasm to the story, in a particularly well-executed manner. Ultimately, “Hercules” has its strengths and weaknesses but this isn’t quite the legendary film this legendary figure deserves.Continue Reading Issue #13
25 July 2014
1 hr. 38 min.
Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes