– Summary –
Director : Brett Ratner
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Aksel Hennie, Reece Ritchie, Rebecca Ferguson, Joseph Fiennes, Steve Peacocke, Peter Mullan, Irina Shayk, Joe Anderson, Barbara Plavin, Tobias Santelmann.
Approx Running Time : 98 Minutes
Synopsis: Hercules and a band of mercenaries roam the lands making their living fighting for whichever cause pays the most. They encounter Lord Cotys and his people, who are at war with the evil warlord Rehesus; Hercules and his friends must take the battle to Rhesus and hope to defeat him with an army of farmers.
What we think : Gangbusting adventure film knows its limitations, winks at the audience, and delivers some rousing action spectacle. Yeah, it’s all a bit silly, but The Rock plays it straight (for a change) leaving the rest of his castmates to shoulder the humor and wit; Hercules is crowd-pleasing entertainment that is a cut, thrust and evisceration above the rest.
Finally, an adventure worth taking.
Hollywood’s enduring cycle of similarly themed films continued in 2014 with the release of two Hercules films – the first, an abortion of a “movie” entitled The Legend of Hercules starring Kellan Lutz, and directed by Renny Harlin, was derided critically as an example of destitute, soulless, committee filmmaking. The second, Hercules, was to be directed by Brett Ratner (a factor which led many to automatically exclude this project as an actual film) and star Dwayne Johnson, fresh from his successful venture into Michael Bay’s Pain & Gain, and the Fast & Furious franchise, among others. A contributing factor to my interest in this film, as opposed to Harlin’s effort, was the inclusion of the former wrestling superstar, whose career I’d watched with interest since he debuted in The Mummy Returns, kicked ass in The Rundown, and headlined the vastly underrated Walking Tall. Johnson’s screen persona seemed to tower over even the most ordinary of projects he engaged in – he managed to make Race To Witch Mountain actually bearable, and freshened a badly stagnant Furious franchise just when it was needed – and, apparently, he’s actually a really nice guy. Consider me a fan of The Man Formerly Known As The Rock. So, to Hercules, a big-budget sword-n-sandal film that gives our man the role he was probably born to play. Consider his turn as The Scorpion King (non-CG version) in The Mummy Returns, a part which remains as close to Herculean as he’s done until now, and a part I think worked well for the burgeoning superstar. Hercules the man probably isn’t that much of a different role for him, given Johnson’s beefy physique and towering stature, so it would remain to be seen if the story and surrounding characters could provide the necessary platform to give this second-run Hercules story attempt the impact it needed to succeed.
Plot synopsis courtesy Wikipedia: Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is the leader of a band of mercenaries comprising the spear-wielding prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), the knife-throwing thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the feral warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), the Amazon archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and his nephew storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie). Hercules is said to be the demigod son of Zeus, who completed the legendary Twelve Labors, only to be betrayed by Hera, who drove him insane and caused him to murder his wife Megara (Irina Shayk) and their children during a visit to King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes). Hercules has since rejected Zeus and chosen to live as mortal, and is tormented by visions of Cerberus. One day, Hercules and his men are approached by Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), on behalf of her father, Lord Cotys (John Hurt), who wants Hercules to train the armies of Thrace to defend the kingdom from bloodthirsty warlord Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann). Hercules accepts after he and his men are offered his weight in gold, and the band is welcomed to Thrace by King Cotys and General Sitacles (Peter Mullan), leader of the Thracian army. After training the army, Hercules and his men lead them into battle against local barbarians as a test of their strength.
A lot of people, mainly those who lurk on the internet looking for easy pickings, have a distaste for Brett Ratner. The man who gave us the Rush Hour films, Red Dragon, and (ugh) Tower Heist, as well as the oft lamented third X-Men film, The Last Stand, saddles up to provide us with the second of Hollywood’s Hercules films for the 2014 season. Throw your disdain under a bus, haters, because, as fate would have it, Ratner has delivered an audience-friendly piece of popcorn munching action, the kind Conan wished it could have been. Sword and sandal epics are notoriously hard to pull off, particularly these days with a less forgiving audience and an even more inconsistent box-office, and aside from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator snagging glory in 2000, they’ve been a bit hit and miss in the grand scheme of things. Hercules, however, is a different beast. It’s a diverting mix of bloody violence and gutter-dwelling humor, a boys-only sensibility writ large across the broad shoulders of Dwayne Johnson’s sweaty, muscular frame as he carves a swathe through the countless, nameless cannon fodder launched in his direction.
Hercules grounds the legend of the man in a cloud of myth and historical inaccuracy. Rather than make Hercules himself a legendary figure, the film’s story weaves itself into the legend by claiming that the man was merely the product of some great PR. Naturally, Johnson’s casual charm and steadfast screen presence make for a convincing hero regardless of his “godhood”, although I will say that the shadowy way Ratner gives Herc his strength (he throws men around like ragdolls, which is brutal yet unspecific) tends to mislead rather than inform. But in making Hercules more mortal than superman, Ratner and screenwriters Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos have crafted a story that is content most when blood is spilled and battles rage – and they rage a lot here – with only momentary dialogue sequences and plot development between the arrows and swords. Where the film might stumble with only minor plot development and a focus on the carnage (which, I will admit, is handsomely staged), Hercules actually succeeds with its blokesy, ballsy narrative cliches, from the “rag tag team of mercenaries” Hercules commands, to the “stubborn, wise and ultimately betraying” older King, to the “beautiful princess” pinning all her hopes on the hero; it strikes every genre cliche as it bustles along, barely pausing for breath as Ratner’s whip-smart direction hurtles the story between plot twists and viper strikes.
Johnson makes a magnificent Hercules. Bulked up and oiled to the point of environmental damage with each footstep, Johnson’s performance is actually far better than a film, or script, like this deserves. Whereas an Arnold Schwarzenegger might have squinted into the camera and hammed it up a little, Johnson plays the role right down the middle, never really bearing the film’s humor, instead leaving that the terrific ensemble cast Ratner has assembled. Rufus Sewell has a great time as Hercules’ childhood friend Autolycus, while Aksel Hennie (as Tydeus) and Ian McShane add their own unruly sense of fun to the movie. But for me, the highlight was undoubtedly the gorgeously sexy Ingrid Berdal, a Norwegian actress who I have decided will become my slave-boy fantasy. She’s terrific as Atalanta, a female Legolas with her arrow-shooting, and beautiful to boot; can’t wait to see more of her in future projects! John Hurt is deliciously captivating as King Cotys, while Joseph Fiennes provides a sweet love-to-hate character in King Eurystheus, and Rebecca Ferguson is sweet as Cotys’ daughter, Ergenia. The cast know it’s not serious, the script asks for plenty of delicious cornball antics, and there’s enough pillars and amphitheaters and togas to last a lifetime, and yet for all the screaming, bloody battles and herculean derring-do, at its heart this film’s pulp overtones never leave.
Frankly, this film could have been a big side order of cheese accompanying a main meal of cliche, and I guess if you squint hard enough you could see that, but there’s enough energy and fun within Hercules’ pop-culture sensibility to override any real problematic sense of been-there-done-that. Yeah, Hercules isn’t a smart film, and it’s directed with that modern style of rapid-cuts and Peter Berg-eseque super-close-up throwdown menace, which can be annoying if you let it, but the star power of Dwayne Johnson’s hulking title character and the great supporting cast more than make up for any technical shortcomings people could find. Frankly, I found the whole thing a load of deliciously violent, sweaty, arrow-piercing fun that deserves to be seen as loud as humanly possible. Hercules delivers the punch.
© 2014, Rodney Twelftree. All rights reserved.