Herculean, this movie is not.
Who here wants to see the “real” story of Hercules?! Anyone?…Anyone? Bueller? Just as I expected, this was not something that needed to be told, and it’s even the second revisionist tale of Hercules to be released this year (The Legend of Hercules — 3% on Rotten Tomatoes). This one stars Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and is directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X:Men: The Last Stand). What this means is that you can expect 120 minutes of passable escapism, primarily due to Ratner’s involvement rather than The Rock’s presence. The widely disliked Ratner is known for his surface-level entertainment films, Red Dragon the only possible exception, and his newest film is no different. Hercules is stripped of mythology and magic, leaving us with a predictable and bland sword and sandals mini-epic.
Remember 2004’s King Arthur? Well, Hercules is a less exciting version of that movie. Yes, I liked King Arthur and am willing to defend it…to a point. Nevertheless, Hercules lacks a Zimmer-esque rumbling and majestic score, a genuinely frightening baddie (that doesn’t rely on tropes), and an ‘R’ rating. Hercules and King Arthur center around a band of legendary figures fighting for the greater good, depicted in a more “realistic” setting and plot. Not surprisingly, the results lack wonder. Most legends just work best as the legends go. When is the last time you watched a “realistic” take on a magical tale or “the untold story” version of a fable or myth and thought, ‘that was way more interesting than what I knew before!’
The Rock is plenty fun to watch, as always, as the gentle giant interpretation of the legendary mythological figure, Hercules. The acting is definitely not the issue here. Even the side characters are fairly entertaining: Ian McShane as a warrior psychic, the normally-a-baddie Rufus Sewell as Hercules’ longtime friend and warrior sidekick, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as the token female badass required of action films these days (ex. Thor, King Arthur, The Avengers), Aksel Hennie as an animalistic member of the crew, an underused Joseph Fiennes as a sneaky king, and John Hurt as another sneaky king.
The action set pieces aren’t too shabby, either. A few thrills and CGI-aided battle sequences are interspersed between drawn-out moments of aimless dialogue and exposition. Show us, don’t tell us! When Hercules rides the line between PG-13 action adventure and R-rated thirst for blood, the film is actually at its best. It’s just a shame these moments are too little too late. It’s also a shame that the entire setup for the film’s first act, explained and shown to us with great detail within the first 5 minutes, managed to relieve me of all excitement for what was to come. Definitely not the best way to begin a movie. To add insult to injury, a nifty animated end credits sequence dispelled any remaining shreds of interest I held for this version of Hercules. I suppose that’s quite a respectable achievement, in the end, since it has enabled me to forget the film entirely without remorse.
Hercules opens in theaters today, July 25th, 2014.
(Spoiler Note: The best parts of this trailer are 1 — not in the movie or 2 — over within the first 5 minutes of the movie)