Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt
After having to endure his famous 12 labours and haunted by past tragedies, Hercules (Johnson) the apparent demigod is now a mercenary for higher and very much a mortal man. Hercules is promised his weight in gold by Lord Cotys, king of Thrace (Hurt) if he and his small group of fiercely loyal mercenaries can train up the Thracian army to end a civil war against Rheseus, whose barbarian army have slaughtered many innocent residents of Thrace. However, revelations lead to not only Hercules having to prove if the legends about him really are true, but his own morality as a man.
I am sure The Rock’s latest big budget romp will have all my old classics lecturers spitting feathers, but it is very much the case that Brett Ratner and his screenwriters Ryan Contadel and Evan Spiliotopoulos, and even the late Steve Moore who created the original graphic novel and apparently when alive wanted his name nowhere near this film will not care about that. To criticise this for being ‘historically inaccurate’ would be silly as they are essentially myths (and I am very much aware that he was called Heracles thank you very much!). Brett Ratner’s latest big screen depiction has its own story to tell about the identity of this legendary figure, and does it with just about the right combination of tongue-in-cheek camp and broodingly violent to be an enjoyable historical romp from start to finish.
My fear was that Ratner, another of the directors-for-hire, may have thought this was his chance to direct a David Lean style epic and deliver an overblown, overlong and completely misjudged film, like Antoine Fuqua’s King Arthur for example. Thankfully he knows what he is making, and the film is exactly what anyone who knows anything about films would expect a film called Hercules starring Dwayne Johnson to be. It is non-stop escapist fun; admittedly it will not live long in the memory, but for the pleasantly surprisingly and appropriately short running time of 98 minutes it is sheer entertainment, with surprisingly well put together action and performances that I would perhaps not describe as good, but appropriate (and that is meant as a compliment to the actors).
Dwayne Johnson knows his limits as an actor, and deserves full respect for picking roles that are suited to him and enjoying himself in them, and as Hercules he and his mullet not only look the part (obviously) but the tone of the film perfectly suits his effortlessly likeable screen presence and habit of delivering the occasional cheesy one-liner. Likewise the supporting cast not only sport an eclectic range of hairstyles and facial hair, but are all having a great time and are in turn great fun to watch in roles they could do in their sleep. Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Peter Mullan and John Hurt in particular all ham it up appropriately and make every one of their lines count, giving the right balance between comedy, but then gravitas when needed for the film’s (slightly) more serious moments. Though it has to be said that Joseph Fiennes’ lazy pantomime villain performance is almost as awful as his hairstyle, and though he has a vital role in the film’s eventual plot he is thankfully hardly in the film.
Though unsurprisingly edited, as they always say, to ‘within an inch of its life’, Hercules is surprisingly well shot by Ratner; though the action sequences are occasionally a little too murky, on the whole they are very well done and suitably over the top, even if there is a distinct lack of blood to keep it at a 12A certificate. A plethora of weapons (some that McShane uses are particularly inventive) are on show as not only Johnson, but his mates get to show off their fighting skills while delivering the occasional one-liner. Overhead shots of the scenery also add a cinematic and aesthetically pleasing element to the film.
Though Hercules was never going to win any prizes for emotional substance, when the dialogue is required to get serious it does often venture into clunky exposition or clichéd ‘character development’. However, when it is a charismatic Dwayne Johnson and a group of British thesps having a great time leading us into battle, I am, and so should everyone else, be happy to follow them!
Hercules is everything a film of that title that is directed by Brett Ratner and stars The Rock in the leading role should be. It is highly vacuous and extremely camp, but an exceedingly enjoyable action packed sword and sandals romp from start to finish.