MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Hercules’

Film: Hercules
Starring: Dwayne Johnson
Directed by: Brett Ratner

This is not the myth you remember, but it’s the legend you will love.

If you thought that line was corny, you may not want to purchase a ticket to Brett Ratner’s take on Hercules. It’s a wise-cracking, too cool for its own good type of film that [finally] gives us a good reason to care about so-called ‘sword and sandal’ films again. I went in expecting nothing and walked out with the realization I had just experienced one of the most entertaining 98-minute periods of the last year, if not longer. It’s nothing like you expect, but that is exactly what makes it great.

Hercules begins, as so many action films set in the time before pants do, with narration that informs the viewers of the legend most people already know: Hercules, son of Zeus, was born on Earth and faced many labors. He fought a lion, a three-headed serpent, and more. He even killed a snake while still in his crib. If you don’t believe it simply by hearing some nameless and faceless soul tell it to you, don’t worry. They show it to you as well.

What people don’t know, and what sets Ratner’s vision of Hercules apart from the start, is the fact Hercules was just a man like any other. His legend is just another example of good PR at work, and because of his demigod fame the average man with a name people likened to godliness is able to make loads of money doing mercenary work for the highest bidder. That’s the story the trailers have not revealed, and that’s what is waiting for you after five minutes of bad CGI and regurgitated fables at the top of the film. It’s not the classic tale of man versus mythical beings, but rather man versus men and their horrible ways.

It’s also not a one man show. If you believe one man could handle the twelve labors Hercules faced you probably also believe a fat man in a red suit spends his Christmas Eve journeying around the planet led by reindeer. Santa is your parents and Hercules is a man with very talented friends who also just so happen to possess a diverse set of personalities that offer plenty of avenues for side stories and distraction from the central story. It’s nothing you haven’t seen before, but it’s a set of stereotypes that work extremely well for this type of film. There’s a cocky sidekick, a tough female that no one seems to realize is also gorgeous, a silent-yet-aggressive fighter with a twisted history, and an old man who has visions.

The true star of the show, however, is Dwayne Johnson’s portrayal of Hercules. From the moment he appears on the screen it’s clear he’s not letting the fact he’s assuming a role that many great(er) actors have performed before deter him from being himself. It’s the same guy you love from G.I. Joe or Fast & Furious, only this time he wears a lion’s head for a hat and carries a club that looks to the size of most people. He’s also haunted by visions of his past, which offers viewers a unique look at the frightened side of an otherwise strong man.

Without any monsters, the effects side of Hercules is surprisingly light. There are a few battle sequences, but Ratner has handled enough action sequences over the years to know just what viewers need to see in order to connect with a large-scale war. He finds the human element in CG-littered moments, and it’s because of that gift he’s able to keep you connected to Hercules and his companions throughout the duration of their journey.

If Hercules has any Achilles’ heel it’s that I fear it sometimes plays things too safe. There is true originality to the way Johnson portrays Hercules, and Ratner’s vision of his world is well thought out enough to endure the trip, but there comes a point just before the third act when things take a turn for the horribly predictable and just a bit of the fun is sucked out of film. It’s still a satisfying ride to the finish line, but other than the exact execution of the final moments it’s fairly easy to see where things are headed twenty minutes before the credits begin to role. I suppose as a stand alone film there are only so many ways you can end a story, and when you’re working with a studio like Paramount it’s probably advisable to choose the one most people want to see, but I couldn’t help feel a bit of my appreciation for the originality of other elements in the film dim as the story began to wind down.

Brett Ratner does not have the best track record at the box office, and I will be the first to admit that Dwayne ’The Rock’ Johnson does not always choose the best films, but the combination of these two Hollywood powerhouses has resulted in a film that is both thrilling and fun from beginning to end. More importantly, it offers a surprisngly original take on a familiar story amidst a summer flooded with predictable endings. It’s not about building a universe or continuing a trilogy with Hercules, the focus is solely on entertainment, and aside from a few missteps early on, it succeeds in a big way.


Review written by James Shotwell

James Shotwell
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