There has already been one Hercules film in theaters this year, The Legend of Hercules, and it was hilariously atrocious. Now we have another one, but this time Brett Ratner is behind the camera and Dwayne Johnson is in the lead role. Dwayne Johnson is easily the best wrestler-turned-actor (sorry Roddy Piper), and it’s not so much a credit to his skill as an actor as it is his level of charm, likability and charisma that some of the best actors don’t even come close to. While his filmography is a bit inconsistent, he is more often than not used to great effect, especially with action films where his charm is a bit reminiscent of action heroes of yesteryear who may not have been great actors, but still have an infectious screen presence that keeps audiences coming back for more. However, he hasn’t quite taken a role that could be considered the definitive Dwayne Johnson character, the only one that comes close is in Pain & Gain (still his best performance, it’s legitimately fantastic), where you end up liking him a bit even though he grills human hands at one point. Given some of the interviews that he has taken a part in, it seems that Hercules was a role that he was born to play. Though honestly, could you even think of anyone better?
We all know the myth of Hercules and the twelve labors, right? Well what the film does is take that mythology and treats it as such in context of the era. Because it turns out Hercules is just a dude, a mercenary in fact, who works with his crew consisting of the future-seeing elder Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), the thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the silent but deadly warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), the loyal archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Hercules’ nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), a storyteller that hypes (and exaggerates) the many feats of Hercules to those that lend their ears. Well, I can’t say I saw that approach coming. They take up a job from Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and find themselves in a situation that will test their strength.
This is basically Dwayne Johnson’s Commando. There you go. That is all you need to know.
Perhaps some explaining would be necessary, so first let’s get the negatives out of the way. It’s dumb, incredibly dumb. There’s also certain story and thematic elements don’t quite work, there are a few questionable line deliveries, music is forgettable, a couple effects heavy shots feel unpolished, every second in the film is clichéd or predictable and did I mention that the movie is really dumb? But if you want to see Dwayne Johnson beat baddies to death with a giant club for 90 minutes, then the film delivers spectacularly.
It’s hard to really describe how entertaining the film is without simply spoiling every awesome moment in the film. It’s just one of those films that embraces the inherent stupidity of the entire conceit, plays it straight and takes every opportunity to make the film more fun. In terms of direction, it’s competent. Since he pissed off fanboys with X-Men: The Last Stand, there’s a general idea floating around that Brett Ratner is one of the worst directors ever, when he is really just a competent director that studios hire for projects. His films are well-made, just artistically and thematically bankrupt. He does the same here, there’s really no depth to the film in any way, but in a way, his choices as a director are what makes the film work, elevating a relatively trite and forgettable script by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos. There are also some cool shots here and there, the action sequences are well done and the pacing is good.
The best thing about the film is easily the cast. Dwayne Johnson is a great lead, no surprise there, but the supporting cast does a good job too, especially Hercules’ crew. Ian McShane steals every scene he’s in; Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, and Reece Ritchie all do provide a solid effort and their comradery is believable. John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, Tobias Santelmann, Rebecca Ferguson and various others make up the rest of the cast, and they do a fine enough job that is necessary for this type of movie.
Hercules is an incredibly cheesy and gleefully violent film, the kind of movie that would be everyone’s guilty pleasure today had it come out 20-25 years ago. Oh, and in terms of the violence in this movie, I’m surprised that it got away with a PG-13. It’s not often you see a PG-13 film with blood splatter, visible stab wounds and rotting heads on spikes. Getting back on point, this is the movie where you need to know what you’re going into because expecting anything other than what it provides will only lead to disappointment. And seriously, there’s no reason to be disappointed with a film involving Dwayne Johnson flipping over horses and punching people 20 feet away. It’s all in good fun.
Side Note: There is actually some controversy surrounding this film. According to an angry Alan Moore (when is he not?), Steve Moore (no relation), wrote the comic Hercules: The Thracian Wars, which the film is based on. Apparently his contract was changed in a way that resulted in him not receiving any payment for the film rights of the comic, and this was done without his knowledge, so he cannot take legal action for the payment. Because of this, he had his name removed from the film, but given his unfortunate passing on March 16th, his name has been used for promotion and is given a credit in the film. So, there’s that. On a lighter note, The Asylum released their mockbuster of Hercules a couple weeks ago called Hercules Reborn. It’s actually not too bad, by Asylum standards, but if you want a completely insane Hercules movie, check out the 1983 film Hercules, starring Lou Ferrigno, in which Hercules punches a bear, throws the bear into space and it magically turns into the Ursa Major constellation. It’s as glorious as it sounds.