REVIEW: “Hercules”

HERCULES POSTER

If you would have told me ten years ago that WWE wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would become the highest paid actor and busiest man in Hollywood I would call you insane. But that’s exactly what has happened. It seems like his face pops up everywhere. Case in point – last year alone he appeared in five different films. But as any halfway discerning movie fan knows, not all of Rock’s films have been gems and I can’t say I was expecting much from his latest flick “Hercules”.

But there is something surprisingly effective about “Hercules” that makes it easily watchable despite its glaring flaws. Brett Ratner directs which threw up all kinds of warning signs for me. I’ve disliked my share of his past films, but this one is actually fun in large part thanks to its charismatic and likable lead and the fun assortment of supporting talent. But I give Ratner credit, he doesn’t derail the film’s momentum and he keeps it within a nice, tidy 98 minutes.

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This isn’t the normal Hercules story you’ve read about or even seen in the rather misleading movie trailer. This is based off a graphic novel titled “Hercules: The Thracian Wars”. At first we hear the legend of Hercules – the demigod son of the mighty Zeus. In reality he’s just a mortal who has a ton of muscles, great battlefield skills, and a pearly white smile. He leads a colorful band of mercenaries that includes prophet (Ian McShane) who is always wrongly predicting his own death, an Amazonian archer (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) with endless supply of arrows, his knife-slinging childhood friend (Rufus Sewell), a hatchet-wielding warrior from Thebes (Aksel Hennie), and his nephew (Reece Ritchie) whose main job is to build the legend of Hercules through his exaggerated stories.

Hercules and his crew are approached by Princess Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) and offered a ton a gold to help defeat a murderous warlord who is burning villages and killing innocents. Herc agrees to meet with Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and the two strike a deal. Hercules will train the makeshift army of farmers and lead them into battle defeating the evil warlord and bringing peace across the lands. Oh please, you know things aren’t that simple.

Actually things really aren’t that simple and I’m thankful for that. The story does start out cliched and incredibly formulaic. So much of the dialogue, narrative structure, and plot maneuvers are things we’ve seen in so many other fantasy films. But the story does have a couple of twists that shake things up and keep it interesting. There is also an enormous amount of action, much of which pushes the PG-13 violence boundaries. People are skewed, impaled, burned, and sliced in rapid succession and it’s quite amazing the film avoided an R rating. The action sequences, much like portions if the plot, do sometimes feel lifted from other films. But they’re also a lot of fun mainly because Ratner keeps them energetic and embraces the absurdity of it all.

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Now I have to admit, at times I found it hard to buy into The Rock as Hercules. It has nothing to do with his performance (he is surprisingly good here and continues to get better as an actor) and he certainly has the look. But the above mentioned charisma that he naturally possesses kept bringing visions of The Rock and not Hercules. But he has a lot of fun with the role and which made it fun for me. It also helps to have really good actors like Hurt and McShane having a blast with their characters.

It’s impossible to call “Hercules” a great movie mainly because it lacks originality and borrows too much from too many other films. From its plot and dialogue all the way to its use of its score, “Hercules” feels way too familiar. But it is easy to call the film fun and it is definitely a pleasant surprise. It’s a ‘kick your feet up’ action movie and never makes the mistake of taking itself too seriously. It may be a ‘one and done’ popcorn flick, but I have to admit it is an enjoyable escape.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

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29 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Hercules”

  1. Those were pretty much my thoughts on the whole affair. It was a good time. It was infinitely better than the OTHER Hercules movie that was released last year. I’m not a big fan of Brett Ratner’s either, I don’t like most of his stuff, but Hercules was a pretty decent action flick.

      • Honestly, what does stick with me is how they dealt with the whole 12 Labors deal. I’m not going to spoil it for people who haven’t seen it, but it was a fairly unique twist and somewhat realistic. It was a very different take on the myth, and I really appreciate that.

  2. I concurred with Johnson’s own statements earlier last year when he said he was “born to play this role,” but have to admit that I was very disappointed when I learned that Ratner was attached to direct.

    That being said, Netlix has helped loosen up many of my former cinematic prejudices and snobbery and allowed me to try out numerous popcorn flicks I would have never watched otherwise. I’ll put this one on the list, and thanks for noting the level of PG-13-pushing R-rated violence. I like my action movies for adults, or at least the “action” part, if you know what I mean.

    Also, it’s interesting that this isn’t a mythic retread like Clash/Wrath of the Titans. It sounds more grounded and historically-based in psuedo-realism from what you and others have described.

    • I think that’s an accurate description. On the flipside it also pulls from so many other fantasy/action movies. It still has enough unique angles to separate it though, even slightly.

  3. I keep hearing that this isn’t as bad as it looked or as one should expect it to be…so now I feel the need to actually see this! Nice write up, balanced and well written.

    • Thanks man. Definitely not as bad as it had every right to be. I mean let’s face it, nothing about it sounds remotely interesting or entertaining on the surface. But it surprised me. It’s a decent movie. Not one you’ll buy and add to your collection but it’s worth seeing.

  4. This is solid, dumb fun, an easily disposable action flick to have fun with once and forget about. The Rock’s presence helps tremendously. His charisma is undeniable. I’m not so sure you’re really supposed to buy him as Hercules. He’s just doing what The Rock does. As far as the PG-13/R thing goes, it seems to me that the only real difference nowadays is how much blood is actually shown. As long as it’s not splattering all over the place it gets a PG-13.

    • The Rock is definitely being The Rock here. And it works. It’s a totally disposable movie but not one to dismiss. It is surprisingly entertaining and well worth a one-and-done viewing.

  5. Ahah, your first sentence is funny! I do think Dwayne is a charismatic guy, but a lousy actor as he basically just plays himself. I’m not interested in this one Keith, even w/ my fave Rufus Sewell in it.

    • It’s actually a pretty fun movie mainly because it never takes itself seriously. It has fun with the absurdity of it all. You should give it a look if it’s on TV.

      • Ok yeah maybe when it’s on Netflix 😉 I just saw this has Ian McShane as well, I like that guy and funny that he looks so much like Rufus! I always think they could play father & son.

        Btw Keith, when you have some free time, why not take a quick music break over at my place 😉

  6. God call on this one, Keith. I think Johnson carried the film across the line on his immense shoulders, whereas if it had been another actor I doubt the movie would have succeeded. Hercules succeeds because of The Rock, and for no other reason. Yeah, flaws and logic seem to perambulate in unison, but on the whole it was a cheesy, mindless, popcorn friendly affair. I enjoyed it for that.

  7. “Kick your up feet Action Movie” My favorite kind. Will give this a go, Keith. Didn’t have any intention of watching it actually but I am very interested now. May check it out with my Sons, who are big WWE fans. Thanks man!

    • Sure thing Vic. It’s definitely worth giving a look. Just don’t expect anything groundbreaking. It’s very honest about what it wants to be and for the most part it succeeds.

      Thanks for the comments and let me know what you think of it if you check it out.

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