Starring: Dwayne Johnson (Pain & Gain), Ian McShane (Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides), John Hurt (Snowpiercer), Rufus Sewell (Dark City), Ingrid Bolso Berdal (Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters), Askel Hennie (Headhunters), Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love)
Director: Brett Ratner (Rush Hour)
Writers: Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spilotopoulos (Battle for Terra)
Runtime: 1 hour 38 minutes
Release Date: 25 July (US, UK)
As is film tradition, 2014 again saw the release of two films with similar subject matter, and this year that subject is Hercules (which, I am always quick to remind people, is actually his Roman name, not his Greek one Heracles). The early part of the year gave us Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules, which I have yet to see so I can’t draw any comparisons. That said, this film’s helmer Brett Ratner’s reputation isn’t that better than Harlin’s, so it’s easy to assume that his Hercules isn’t much good either. But judging a film based on the people behind it is hardly fair, so how is the movie itself?
Hercules, in a certain way, is an anti-300. Whereas that film took a historical event and embellished it with fantastical elements, this film takes a mythological character and grounds him in something closer to reality. The idea that Hercules’ (Johnson) back-story and labours were exaggerated is an interesting concept, one that the advertising has been coy about, but I wouldn’t call it a spoiler; I’d say it’s actually more of a selling point and gives the film something it can call its own. In terms of plot, Hercules doesn’t do anything particularly groundbreaking but it tells its simple tale briskly and effectively. The film mainly works because it doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a sense of fun (something sorely lacking from the 300 films). In many ways, it’s less of mythical epic and more like a big budget version of the classic swords-and-sandals movies of yesteryear like Conan the Barbarian and The Beastmaster; simple and silly, but enjoyable. Other than the grounded concept and a decently handled second act twist, there’s not a huge amount different on offer but none of it is handled particularly poorly and the film manages to remain entertaining enough to sustain its brief run time.
Whether in good movies or bad, the man formerly known as The Rock always manages to be a welcome presence. Say what you will about his acting, but Dwayne Johnson exudes charisma and with his physique he seems almost born to play Hercules. Though Johnson’s acting chops aren’t exactly pushed by this role, he does makes a likable leading man and his mere stature provides enough proof that he’s one tough cookie. However, it’s Hercules’ band of loyal allies that make the film. Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell provide some good comic relief, Askel Hennie plays batsh*t insane pretty well and Ingrid Bolso Berdal does stoic badass chick quite convincingly. They aren’t exactly given much depth or development, but their camaraderie and banter does both lighten the proceedings and creates a strong bond between these characters. The rest of the cast are a mixed bag. John Hurt gives exactly the kind of performance you’d expect and Peter Mullan is always a good face to have about, but Joseph Fiennes’ character is underutilised and his performance is hammy, and Isaac Andrews gives one of the most sickeningly cute child actor performances I’ve ever seen; all of his lines are delivered with such precocious wonderment that I just wanted to slap the kid.
Just like its story, Hercules eschews a stylised look and instead goes for a more traditional aesthetic. Whilst this makes it feel less distinctive, it makes up for this with grand production design and well-staged action sequences. The film manages to avoid using extensive CG (which is good because, when it does, it doesn’t always look great), instead creating its sets and set pieces using practical methods whenever it can. It certainly helps add to the old school sensibilities of the film, and though the action isn’t exactly phenomenal it is enjoyable.
Hercules isn’t a film you’d describe as ‘different’, but ‘fun’ does come to mind. It does just enough to justify its existence with its interesting take on the Hercules mythos, good chemistry between Johnson and his team, diverting action sequences and, most important of all, doing all of this with a smile. In an age where all films of this ilk are fairly morbid affairs, seeing one that doesn’t take itself too seriously is certainly a step in the right direction. It’s hardly a must-see, but if you’re in the mood for some mindless fun you could do far worse than Hercules.
FINAL VERDICT: 7/10