Before he was a legend, he was a man.
There have been several different interpretations of the famed Hercules over the past few decades or so, from the 1995 Kevin Sorbo starring television show, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, to the popular 1997 feature length animated Disney film Hercules, to the more recent The Legend of Hercules (2014), it’s reasonable to say that we’ve seen our fair share of the Greek hero in mainstream media. Let’s not forget about the countless Greek mythology inspired features of late such as Clash of the Titans (2010), Immortals (2011) and the Percy Jackson series, leaving the genre feeling a little worn out. At this point in time, a Brett Ratner version of the classic legend feels somewhat unnecessary. Nevertheless, we find ourselves with yet another Hercules picture.
Famous for his incredible strength, Hercules, the alleged Greek demigod — son of the Greek god Zeus and the mortal Alcmene — has become renowned for his numerous far-ranging adventures. This new Hercules vehicle is based on acclaimed comic book writer Steve Moore’s Radical Studios graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars — illustrated by Cris Bolsin — which focuses on Hercules, the man, rather than Hercules, the legend. After enduring twelve arduous labors and becoming a hero amongst his people, Hercules (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson), is forced to flee his home following the tragic loss of his wife and children. Haunted by the death of his family, Hercules turns his back on fellow citizens and isolates himself, finding relief merely in bloody battle.
Over years of fighting, Hercules warms to the company of five similar souls, his brother in arms, Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), priest and prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), skilled Amazon archer, Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), the more-animal-than-man, Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) and his nephew, the proficient story teller, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). Together, the crew forms a bond as mercenaries, fighting for the love of the craft and the abundant rewards they are offered. Now, the king of Thrace, Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and his daughter Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), have hired these mercenaries to train their feeble Thracian army to take on a mysterious enemy hell bent on power and bloodshed. But Hercules eventually discovers that this new undertaking will compel him to confront his dark past.
This new Hercules feature is without a doubt Dwayne Johnson’s, The Scorpion King (2002), show as the prolific action star elevates the entire picture with his incredibly impressive physique — Johnson took on a demanding training routine to prepare for the role — and his natural charisma, portraying the titular character — a warrior glorified by his reputation yet humbled by tragedy — with certain ease. In spite of this, Johnson does sometimes struggle to convey the deeper aspects of the narrative — such as mourning the loss of his family — but what he lacks in intimacy he makes up for with sheer conviction, giving us a heroic protagonist who’s easy to get invested in and cheer for.
The man in charge of this sizable project, director Brett Ratner — who sounds like a improbable choice to direct a large-scale ancient Greek epic — seems to be enjoying himself with the film’s material, unleashing a familiar — the picture plays out just as one expects it would — yet rather enthusiastic swords-and-sandals flick. Ratner’s action sequences are surprisingly coherent and violent for a PG-13 feature and his cheesy clichés primarily succeed at entertaining thanks to a cast of talented performers and a modest budget. What differentiates this Hercules outing from the large number of other offerings is its realistic depiction of the legend as this Hercules story is grounded in reality. The CGI creatures plaguing advertisements are merely seen in dreams, hallucinations or Iolaus’ propaganda flashbacks, leaving viewers speculating whether the extravagant Hercules tale is true or just a façade. While an interesting take on the myth, stripping away the creatures that commonly go hand-in-hand with most Hercules pictures might disappoint those who are eager to get their fantasy fix.
When it comes to supporting players, Ian McShane, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), generates the majority of picture’s laughs as Amphiaraus, a seer who anticipates his death on multiple occasions with amusing results, while Reece Ritchie, 10,000 BC (2008), is fervent as Iolaus, the young crew member responsible for building the Hercules legend with his engaging stories about the supposed exploits of the son of the gods. Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Chernobyl Diaries (2012), looks terrific as Atalanta — the only female member in Hercules’ crew — although her character could have done with more depth and additional screen time. Joseph Fiennes, Shakespeare in Love (1998), comes off as somewhat ridiculous playing King Eurystheus, whereas John Hurt, Hellboy (2004), appears to be rather miscast as Lord Cotys; furthermore both actors sound particularly silly shouting tacky lines such as, ‘Unleash the wolves!’
The script by newcomer Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, Battle for Terra (2007), has been modified from its source material with themes involving Hercules’ bisexuality being removed from the screenplay for a more generic narrative which mainly focuses on the idea of Hercules being a self-conscious mythmaker, inventing practical, real-world explanations for all of his seemingly superhuman feats — some of which are explored in more detail during the flashy end credit sequence. In regards to Steve Moore’s original graphic novel, some have started a ‘boycott Hercules’ campaign as Moore received no payment for the comic’s film adaptation and therefore asked producers that his name not be attached to the picture. Following his death however, Moore’s name has been used to promote the film with the studio hoping to capitalize on the surge of interest following the artist’s death, which has in turn outraged fans. Either way, this is probably the ‘biggest’ Hercules film we’ve seen thus far; John Bruno’s, Avatar (2009), detailed visual effects are first-rate, as are production designer Jean-Vincent Puzos,’ 10,000 BC (2008), remarkable storybook sets, resulting in the flashy big-screen affair this hero has ultimately been crying out for.
When compared to Renny Harlin’s awful The Legend of Hercules (2014), Brett Ratner’s Hercules comes off as a passably enjoyable, stylishly made action-epic, elevated by Dwayne Johnson’s ability to entertain, his brute physical appearance and sly self-awareness, giving this humanized Hercules a human-sized spirit.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Hercules is released through Paramount Pictures Australia