Release Date: 25th of July 2014
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal
When sitting down to watch a film starring a former wrestler and directed by the maker of X-Men: The Last Stand and Rush Hour 3, there are certain expectations. The most you might be able to hope for is a movie that is silly rather than stupid. A silly movie might have an inherent amount of stupidity, but it has a level of self-awareness and exuberance that elevates it to campy fun. Unfortunately, Hercules is more of a stupid movie than a silly one.
With an opening that skips merrily through the famous parts of Hercules’ legend, this is the story of an older, world weary demi-god, banished from Athens and taking on mercenary jobs to earn some cash. It’s a more grounded take on the classic myth, one that suggests Hercules’ legendary exploits are exaggerations and embellishments of the more mundane truth. Backed up by a rag-tag group of warriors; consisting of a knife slinging Spartan (Sewell); a feral soldier (Aksel Hennie); an Amazonian archer with a striking resemblance to Nicole Kidman (Berdal); Hercules’ annoying nephew (Reece Ritchie) and Ian McShane channeling Friar Tuck as a rambunctious, inebriated seer; Hercules takes on the job of training the Thracian army on behalf of John Hurt’s Lord Cotys. It’s a fairly interesting concept, toying with the notion of myth and heroism but it’s not explored in any depth at all, the film tries to have its cake and eat it, stripping the characters of their fantastical roots but making the central group so capable and skilled that they’re like a Greco-Roman Avengers.
At the centre of it all though is Dwayne Johnson (he’s ditched The Rock name for the time being) as the eponymous hero. Apparently he bulked up his not inconsiderable frame for this role, resulting in something that looks more like a wall with a face than a human being. He’s huge, imposing and wearing a dodgy wig and stick-on beard. Playing the stoic, tortured hero, he’s shorn of his natural charisma; reduced to a bellowing lump of meat and leaving all the quips and sense of fun to McShane and Sewell. It’s a pity, big Dwayne (in the right role) can be a magnetic presence but his Hercules is a colossal bore, leaving a void at the centre of the film for much of its running time.
The direction by Brett Ratner is workmanlike with several big set-pieces showing large scale combat without ever impressing. There’s an absence of flair or style in the execution and scenes just muddle on through to their conclusion. Coupled with the pedestrian presentation, the violence is lightweight and without a sense of consequence; despite the thudding loudness of battles, it’s one of those films where characters hack away at each other gleefully but no-one seems to bleed.
A missed opportunity to inject something fresh into Greek mythology, Hercules isn’t the goofy romp you might hope for, nor is it the bold reinterpretation it wants to be. Ho-hum Hercules.