2014-08-08 10:56
What it's about:

Making the most of a legend that he helped propagate, Hercules is an apparently very mortal man who, with his small band of mercenaries, suddenly finds himself leading a ragtag army of peasants and farmers against bloodthirsty marauders who threaten to tear down the entire kingdom of Thrace.

What we thought

Brett Ratner is a director who has long been considered one of the more notorious hacks in Hollywood; a guy who producers call in when they need something knocked out in very short notice after the proper filmmaker attached to the project bails out. It's a reputation that he seems to have mostly earned on the (de)merits of X-Men: The Last Stand alone – a truly dire franchise-killer (or, in this case, attempted killer) that “proper” filmmakers like Bryan Singer and Matthew Vaughn have spent years trying to correct.

Beyond that terrible X-Men movie, however, Ratner's only real crime is that he's ultimately a very mediocre filmmaker. He hasn't made many truly bad movies, but his absolute best work is only just better than passable. He tends to work off mediocre scripts, making mediocre movies that are mediocre hits. He is, however, certainly nowhere near as awful as the McGs and Michael Bays of the world. Still, the news that he was going to be handling the latest Hercules movie didn't exact fill me with confidence.

Based on the Radical comics series by the late historian and writer Steve Moore and already courting some controversy after comics legend Alan Moore (no relation) blasted the film's marketing for using his friend's name on a movie that he allegedly wanted nothing to do with, this version of Hercules follows on the heels of Robin Hood and King Arthur in trying to explain exactly where the legend came from by presenting a historically “real” representation of our eponymous hero. And once again, I can't help but wonder why they bother.

I wouldn't wish to impugn the apparently in-depth research that went behind Moore's comics but the movie – which is actually a perfectly passable historical action drama – did nothing to convince me that this is in any way the true story of Hercules. Hell, as a fellow film critic reminded me, it's not even historically accurate that the Greeks had a demigod named Hercules, as Hercules was actually the Roman form of the Greek demigod Heracles.  

More importantly, while I did rather like the way the film presented the legend of Hercules as something that divided people the same way most religions do these days – and therefore having something (though not a whole lot of something) to say about the relationship between myth and faith in our world - nothing in the film's basic story comes even remotely close to being as captivating and satisfying as the original myth. The plot here is a decent enough swords and sandals affair but it ain't got a patch on the “real” legend that is presented in passing in the first five minutes of the film.

Still, quibbles aside, there's little here that isn't basically enjoyable. It's a fast paced (and impressively short) romp that has some OK action scenes, OK visuals and OK humour. In the wake of Transformers 4, “OK” isn't bad at all, to be sure, it's just that so many of this year's big films are so much more than OK that this looks especially disposable by comparison.

If there is one thing that does elevate the film, it's the two key performances at the centre of the film. Dwayne Johnson is as likeable as ever and he makes a terrifically charismatic Hercules, while John Hurt reminds us once again why he is such a British treasure. As for the rest of the cast, well, would you know it... they're perfectly OK!

Incidentally, as to how it measures up to the other Hercules film released this year, I haven't a clue. Ratner's Hercules may be pleasantly mediocre but I can't imagine it making less of a splash than Renny Harlin's Legend of Hercules, which seemed to vanish before it even appeared.

The second Hercules film of the year is enjoyably mediocre but it proves once and for all that the “story behind the myth” is never as interesting as the myth itself.
Read more on:    dwayne johnson  |  movies

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