DWAYNE “The Rock” Johnson is now as renowned for his acting roles as he is for being one of the brightest stars of the American wrestling firmament, having become a reliable pair of hands on-screen and a bankable action star in his own right.
Looking more muscle-bound and strangely hued than he ever has before, the former WWE champion is one of the few men man alive who could believably portray the fabled Greek hero on-screen and hit his marks. And so he does.
Hercules was never in danger of being a superb film – you’re expected to be pushing popcorn into your face for the duration – but Johnson and a surprising cast of English acting favourites make this an enjoyable 98 minutes. If a little short of expectations.
We find the son of Zeus already a legend within Greece, having endured his famed 12 labours, and working as a mercenary warrior after being banished from Athens by King Eurystheus (an enjoyable turn by a lesser seen Joseph Fiennes) following the murder of his wife and children.
Keeping him company is a rag tag bunch of heavy-hitters, including jocular seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), knife-throwing soldier Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), savage fighter Tydeus (Askel Hennie), Amazonian archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Hercules’ own nephew and storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie).
Hired by Thracian ruler Lord Cotys (the fabulous John Hurt) to save his kingdom, Hercules fights for justice but may be facing the wrong enemy.
Somewhat disappointingly, the script (by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos) decides to put one foot in realism while the other remains in myth. It makes for a more human film on some levels, but actually starves the movie of some much needed scale. A damaging blow for an action epic.
We get glimpses of what might have been early on in the film when Hercules takes on some nifty looking CGI monsters from an enormous, indestructible lion to the many-headed Hydra (hail!) in a pleasing prologue. But with a wry smile, boy scout Hercules let’s us know that this is all essentially nonsense and his reputation is, in fact, somewhat embellished by his excitable young nephew’s stories.
All this despite the fact that Hercules sends rivals flying with a single blow. So clearly not quite all nonsense then.
One of the problems with director Brett Ratner’s take on the popular hero of antiquity is that we’re not really sure if he’s living in a world filled with the magic of the Gods or not. The larger issue with this is that it fundamentally fails to deliver what the audience craves – an unabashed fantasy action adventure.
Ratner’s Hercules simply fails to be epic. It doesn’t deliver what it implies is on the tin. And with Johnson at the helm there’s no reason this couldn’t have been a movie to echo 1982’s Conan The Barbarian that brought a young Arnold Schwarzenegger to fame.
You can’t help but feel that there’s been a fumbled opportunity for something greater here.
Final word: A fantasy epic that fails to deliver anything truly exceptional. Hercules is a fun watch, but nothing more.
If you liked Hercules you should also watch:
- Dracula Untold
- The Scorpion King