Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Epic Battle Sequences, Violence, Suggestive Comments, brief Strong Language and partial Nudity
Directed by: Brett Ratner
Written by: Ryan J. Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos
(based on the graphic novel HERCULES: THE THRACIAN WARS by Steve Moore & Admira Wijaya)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Aksel Hennie, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes
2014 has brought us not one, but two crappy takes on a Greek Demigod. Of both films (the first being January’s LEGEND OF HERCULES), this summer release had the greater chance of actually being a solid film. Enter Brett Ratner. This is the man who ruined the third X-MEN film and pumped out the lame TOWER HEIST two-years back. This is a director who has truly earned infamy in Hollywood. He’s not entirely to blame for the colossal screw-up that is HERCULES. Though Ratner’s mixed production values already reeked of a possible stinker to begin with, the script is what tanks this entire film. The ads have lied and the story is essentially a KING ARTHUR version of the legend of Hercules. Thus meaning that a more realistic angle is taken and the legend itself is merely a story told around a campfire. The problem with this approach is that Hercules was never a real person. The mythology is what makes him so interesting to begin with. The removal of Gods and monsters is only the start of a laundry list of problems of what doesn’t work.
Based on a graphic novel by Steve Moore, the film follows Hercules and his trusty band of warriors serving as mercenaries. Under the promise of their weight in gold, the group is hired by Lord Cotys to defend a kingdom from an evil warlord. The battle may be harder than originally anticipated as they face an enemy from all sides. Hercules must take up the reigns, train an army, and keep the enemy at bay long enough to save the kingdom from certain destruction. The plot is by-the-numbers simple and contains just about every cliché in the book.
By every cliché in the book, I mean there is not a single frame or concept that you haven’t seen before executed in a far better way. Dwayne Johnson plays Hercules as a reluctant hero fighting for what he believes is right. It’s the same shtick seen in nearly every cop, army, or war movie featuring this kind of hero who just wants to live in peace. The idea of portraying a more realistic version of Hercules is shaky from the beginning, but the portrayal of how this legend really happened is insulting to anyone remotely familiar with the mythology. In short, the legend itself would have been far more interesting, cool, and entertaining to see on the big screen. It’s the kind of story that perfectly lends itself to big summer blockbuster fare. This only makes every failed attempt that much more depressing. Throw in dusty attempts at comedy relief and some rather poorly done flashbacks, then you’ve got yourself the recipe for the level of awful that HERCULES dwells at.
Besides Dwayne Johnson cracking one-liners and playing the same role that he already played in THE SCORPION KING, Hercules’ groups is populated by other figures from Greek/Roman mythology. It should come as no surprise that their treatment is equally as heinous as the title son of Zeus’ humiliating role here. There’s the Amazonian woman proving herself stronger than all of the men she’s around, a reluctant Spartan who only cares about gold, and the scarred, mute warrior. Ian McShane is a drug-using psychic who gives Hercules cryptic bits of advice when needed. The worst character comes in the form of Iolaus. He’s Hercules’ nephew and the bumbling sidekick who wants to be a warrior, but just isn’t strong enough. See what I mean by clichés? Joseph Fiennes and John Hurt should be downright embarrassed of their performances. They both chew the scenery. The film also has one of the most annoying child actors I’ve seen in quite a while as well. Thank the Gods that he doesn’t get a whole lot of material.
One might think that the action scenes could possibly hold some saving grace, but you’d be mistaken. Though there is a bit of momentum near the beginning of a few battle sequences, everything quickly devolves into repetitive sword-waving and nothing of real interest. Part of this might be attributed to the playing-it-safe PG-13 rating, but I’d wager that there isn’t a whole lot of interesting things to do in a non-mythological take on one of the most famous Greek myths. Another thing that really bugged me was the modern lingo thrown in. There’s the one “fuck” that every PG-13 rated blockbuster seems to save for a certain moment and then “shit” appeared every now and then. These words didn’t exist at this time in Greece. If you’re going to make a movie set in this time period then have them speak in dialogue that somewhat reflects the era they’re living in. It’s the same problem I had with 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE and the underrated POMPEII nailed dialogue more than both of these films. The film also plays hilariously cheesy music in certain scenes and is book-ended by a voice-over that really sounds like Ian McShane was just in recording booth with his paycheck being waved in front of him as motivation to say such ridiculous lines.
The production values look very cheap in moments and actually convey some palpable atmosphere in some notable scenes. That’s about the only nice thing I can say about HERCULES. The real question that is raised after sitting through this film is this: How did a Syfy Channel script make it to the big screen and why were so many big names attracted to it? There may be a bit of an unintentionally campy factor to this film, but that’s the last thing anyone wants to hear about a would-be epic. Sitting through HERCULES is a miserable and aggravating experience. It’s one of the worst movies of the summer and 2014 as a whole.