3 StarsDirected with reckless indifference by Brett Ratner from a playful script accredited to a four writers,Hercules is sleek and empty as well as funny and pointless. It feels manufactured, touched by many different hands. A movie made by committee. The pleasant surprise is that both the script, and supporting cast, are funny; the film blends big-budget action and tongue-in-cheek humor in the way that nearly lampoons the entire genre. Johnson, looking both more muscular and younger than he did in his Scorpion King era, and evil Lord John Hurt go after each other amid lots of sword fighting, battles and fire effects.
Dwayne Johnson is the title character, the mortal son of Zeus who must set out on his legendary quests to fulfill his mythical stature. This version incorporates elements of the greek writings, featuring the brutal slayings of Hercules’ family by his own hand. Banished from his homeland, Herc is now the leader of a mercenary group. The outfit consists of the story-teller, a prophet, a sexy female warrior (perhaps a nod to Xena), a money minded former solider, all dwarfed in size and screen-time by Johnson.
The money offered for protecting a kingdom from invading forces proves too good to pass up, and Hercules begins to train the farmers and fathers in the ways of fighting and battle formations. Soon the army is strong enough to take on the marauding forces of its neighboring kingdom. However, it all is revealed that Hercules is actually on the wrong side, lending his efforts to a power-hungry Lord Cotys (John Hurt) in his effort to conquer all the lands.
The straight-forward storyline is simple enough to follow without having to pay close attention to the glaring cliches. The pacing is swift, I applaud Ratner for keeping this cartoon-like feature under two hours and giving us lots of action with some chuckles in-between. The film sorely lacks a strong villain to antagonize the powerful Hercules, this was a problem in Schwarzenegger flick too, Hurt is slimy but fragile. I assume we will see a more brutal version released on the forthcoming DVD/BLU-RAY in the fall, but as played Hercules is a great throwback to the Saturday matinée days.
Ian McShane offers comic relief, Rufus Sewell sulks but is the only rational thinking character in the movie, and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal is a distraction due to her unusually strong resemblance to a young Nicole Kidman. Johnson strides through portions of the movie with a lion’s head worn atop his noggin, the man is so massive that you wonder if Hercules slayed then eat the damn thing before making a coofie.
There are movies that attempt to broaden the boundaries of their respective genre, Hercules is not one of these pictures. It is content to stay within the outlined perimeters and moves confidently from scene to scene, without ever stamping home a moment of authenticity or giving the audience a character to relate with. This makes Milius’ Conan the Barbarian look like Alexander Nevsky (1938) in comparison. After two middling tries at the Sword & Sandals genre, Johnson still hasn’t found his footing. This is a guy who resembles a barbarian but can’t find the right vehicle to showcase his physical attributes. There is intelligence in Johnson’s eyes that belay the simple-minded characters he plays, it excelled his work in Snitch and The Rundown, but hampers him in B-movies like Hercules and last years’ G.I. Joe sequel. When the time comes this likable star finds a script with enough strength as his massive biceps, then he will finally achieve the super-star status that he seems perpetually on the cusp of.
Director: Brett Ratner
Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt