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Hercules makes his second cinematic appearance of the year with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson taking on the legendary role in a light-hearted fantasy adventure.
After completing the “Twelve Labors of Hercules” the legendary figure has become a mercenary with a loyal band of troops as his nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) spreads the word of his trials. After a successful mission Hercules is hired by Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and his daughter Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) to train Thrace’s army to protect their lands from a warlord and his ‘centaurs’ as Hercules battles his own personal demons.
This version of Hercules is a reinterpretation of the legends, using elements of the story and attempts something different. One of the best aspects of this Hercules movie is Johnson’s Hercules is simply a man, a great colossus of man but he is still only human. He is someone who stories of his deeds have snowballed and plays up on his image to inspire his own troops and cause fear in his enemies. Hercules down plays the fantasy elements as it attempts to be a fun adventure.
While watching Hercules, it is easy to be reminded of similar movies. There is of course 300, which many studios have been trying to copy because of its success. There are big battle sequences and the troops come to a decimated village similar to 300. The downplaying of fantasy elements is very much like what Wolfgang Petersen did with Troy and the characters of Hercules share scepticism of the supernatural like the group in The 13th Warrior. The training of the troops comes from Seven Samurai.
Hercules has a comedic take on the characters, based on their banter and camaraderie between Hercules and team. The cast as a whole have solid comic timing and work well together, but many of the jokes were spoiled by the trailer. One of the better jokes was when the troops in training question the magical properties of their war gear.
This Hercules movie that is willing to look at the darker elements of legends with Johnson’s Hercules suffering from a guilty conscience after committing a heinous act. Many movie versions about the character are often more family oriented so the idea of Hercules killing his family is cut from the adaptations. It is weirdly refreshing that this movie allows this part of the legends to be shown.
Johnson is a giant of a man, a huge hulk of muscles. Whether Hercules is a man or a demigod it is easy to believe to that Johnson’s Hercules can fight numerous men, lead armies and perform great feats of strength. Johnson has great credentials as an action hero and he stands alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger with his physical presence, ability to deliver a one-line and comedic timing. Occasionally his delivery is weak, but he has a solid screen presence.
Johnson is surrounded by an excellent cast and it clear that many of the actors were having fun. Hurt, Ian McShane and Peter Mullan are seasoned veterans who add gravitas to adventure and Rufus Sewell is a fun character as Hercules’ second-in-command and a shameless mercenary. Norwegian actors Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Aksel Hennie (Headhunters) make their Hollywood debuts: Hennie being a haunted man who is handy with two axes and Berdal is the bad-ass Amazon who has to wear a very skimpy outfit. And Ritchie is very much a cross between Paul Bettany’s Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale and Patroclus in Troy.
Brett Ratner helmed Hercules and his name to comic-book fans is like a red flag to a bull. His direction is decent if unspectacular and the battle sequences are entertaining enough. He knows how to use Johnson and his muscles and uses aerial shots to show the scale of the battles. He is also able to handle the darker part of the story decently enough as Hercules suffers from his flashbacks. But the CGI is poor for a $100 Million budget movie and backgrounds are really flat (I saw the 2D version of the movie).
While the idea of reinterpreting Hercules and his Labors is well handled as a concept and makes for interesting spin on the legends: but the screenplay is filled with clichés and the final act is a very predictable, unimaginative affair and all the plot-points can be seen from space. Hercules goes through great pains to downplay the fantasy parts of the legends and tries to make Hercules as grounded as possible: this is undercut when MacShane is playing a clairvoyant who can see into the future.
Hercules is a serviceable adventure which is improved by Johnson’s presence and the supporting cast who are enjoying themselves. Considering 2014 gave us The Legend of Hercules and Pompeii this movie is the best classical set movie of the year so far.