Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Aksel Hennie
Written by: Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos and (based on the Radical comic “Hercules”) Steve Moore
Running Time: 98 mins
Release date: 25th July 2014
Hercules is one of those legendary characters that film makers love; a Greek demigod with the strength of a thousand men. Steve Reeves got a lot of mileage out of him in the 50s, Arnie played him in the 70’s and Kevin Sorbo was the TV version of him. Even Disney made him into a cartoon. Now, former WWE wrestler and now movie star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson gets to flex his muscles in a very different version, based on the Radical comic books. While it has no subtly whatsoever, it’s not as bad as you would expect it to be, especially when you realise that Brett Ratner is in charge.
Having survived the legendary twelve tasks, Hercules, having to cope with remorse, takes to being a mercenary along with a band of killers, moving from town to town, taking jobs for gold. The King of Thrace and his daughter persuade him to train up an army of farmers in order to battle a warlord who is destroying the local villages. Hercules and his team agree but after a warning from their personal soothsayer, Amphiaraus, there could be treachery at hand.
The first thing to be said about Hercules is, don’t go in expecting a nice family affair. This is brutal in places. The level of violence is actually quite shocking and I am surprised it managed to make a 12A. Having said that, the battle scenes are handled remarkably well, with a tongue-in-cheek start, a vicious middle and an all out bloodbath finale.
So having witness the level of brutality on show, the rest of the film bounces from modern-day quips and language (including a slightly unnecessary f-bomb that cannot be missed) to the odd Greek history lesson. We are told of Hercules tasks several times. In fact, you do want to scream out “we know already!” The two sit uncomfortably together and Ratner doesn’t know which line to follow and then we get another massive set piece, which is always this side of being epic but falling at the last-minute.
What does make this more bearable than most blockbusters is the smart decision to litter the film with British thespians all out to see who can chew the scenery the most. Ian McShane has plenty of fun as Amphiaraus, the soothsayer waiting to predict his own death. Rufus Sewell as a knife welding member of the time who, for a change is not playing a bad guy, while Peter Mullan’s does his gruff Scottish thug as The King of Thrace’s chief soldier and John Hurt going full theatrical as the King himself.
Finally there’s Johnson. The Rock has grown into a top movie star and here he puts on the charm and charisma to full effect. He makes for an interesting Hercules, who is more than just a muscle-bound swordsman but he has his flaws, his history and his demons. It’s another solid performance in a film that really doesn’t deserve that much attention.
Hercules is perfectly fine as a slice of popcorn fodder. Fans of action films will love the skull-crushing and throat slitting while other may find it a little too much. For a film that, on first examination, looks like total nonsense, it’s better than that. It won’t ignite the box office and will probably be forgotten in a few weeks time but for the 98 minutes it’s on the screen, it’s entertaining enough.