2014, PG-13, 98 mins.
2014, PG-13, 98 mins.
Dwayne Johnson as Hercules / John Hurt as Cotys / Ian McShane as Amphiarus / Rufus Sewell as Autolycus / Aksel Hennie as Tydeus / Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Atalanta / Joseph Fiennes as King Eurystheus
Directed by Brett Ratner / Written by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos
HERCULES feels like a film that was written by nine-year-old boys for nine-year-old boys. The child in me kind of dug it, but the adult in me was kind of incessantly bored with it.
guess if one considers the target demographic audience, HERCULES
essentially delivers on its promise of video game inspired sword and
sandal action and intrigue, but beyond that the film is dramatically empty
and emotionally hollow. Sans
for the innately likeable on-screen charm of Dwayne Johnson as the titular
character, there’s very little to personally invest in here.
Johnson’s granite carved physique, affable demeanor, and headstrong
commitment to his role notwithstanding, HERCULES is too tedious to watch
and endure for its own good.
Director Brett Ratner’s film – based on the far more compelling graphic novel HERCULES: THE THRACIAN WARS – does, at the very least, make some concentrated efforts to stray away from the more popular mythical undertones of the Greek divine hero. In the world of the film Hercules is more man than all-powerful deity that takes a personal journey from being a money-grubbing mercenary to an honor bound and ethically sound crusader of justice. The film tries to take the myth out of this larger-than-life figure and scale him down to some sort of earth-bound reality where Greek gods may or may not exist. This approach feels both fresh and novel, but HERCULES seems more akin to throwing would-be flashy and immersive CGI effects and spectacle on screen than it does with being a thoroughly introspective investigation into its character. And, yes, Johnson certainly gives it his all in the part, but as the film progresses you can almost sense his struggles with trying to infuse some pathos and soul into a character that’s frankly not there on the written page.
the film begins – after a introductory origin montage that teases at the
more fantastical origins of its protagonist that may or may not be true
– we are introduced to Hercules (Johnson) as a mercenary for hire that is
teamed up with his loyal comrades in arms: Autolycus (Rufus Sewell,
finally playing a good guy!), Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), Atalanta (Ingrid
Bolso Berdal), Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) and his nephew Iolaus (Reece
Ritchie). Even though his
daily exploits are focused on securing enough gold to ensure himself a
prosperous future, Hercules is constantly plagued with nightmarish – and
hazy – memories of his family’s death (which he might have had a hand
in). Nonetheless, when on the
“job” Hercules is an unstoppable opponent, which is driven home by the
fact that his own demi-god status is more of a propaganda initiative on the
part of his team to assist them with making an easy buck and easily scaring
and his posse are eventually offered a job that they can’t refuse to
help Lord Cotys (John Hurt, hamming it up with paradoxical restraint and
poise) to help protect his kingdom against a band of rebels.
Hercules agrees to the new mission – mostly because it involves a
sweet payday – and takes it upon himself to train Cotys’ people –
mostly farmers, not warriors – to fight and defend themselves for the
impending war to come. Hercules becomes quick friends with Cotys’ daughter, the
easy-on-the-eyes Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) and her son, both of whom
perhaps become new de facto wife/son figures in his life that also give
him a higher purpose. Rather
predictably, Hercules is confronted with the difficult nature of his new
mission – not to mention some seedy double crosses along the way –
that make him drastically re-evaluate the trust of his employer, but also
his status as a cold-hearted merc.
dispense with the good of this film first: Dwayne Johnson is arguably the
only solitary reason to stay with this film until its end credits.
Despite his Incredible Hulk like stature in the film – he endured
a rigorous training regiment to look the part, and it most definitely
shows throughout – Johnson is one of those rare action film behemoths
(like Schwarzenegger before him) that can match his brawn with an affable
screen presence. Where he may
lack in range as an actor, Johnson certainly makes up for it in terms of
raw star power (that, and he alone may be the only actor alive to make
his character’s entrance in the film – wearing a loincloth and a
lion’s head for a headdress – look anything but ridiculous).
You can also gain an immediate sense that Johnson is trying to play
things relatively straight in this otherwise cockamamie film.
Considering what’s on display here and what he has to act
opposite of, Johnson is kind of commendably understated as Hercules.
as mentioned, Johnson is not given much of a fully realized character to
portray here. Any attempts by
the script to embrace its premise of demythologizing Hercules are
half-hearted at best and are never truly exploited to its fullest.
Once the film establishes its potentially fascinating conceptual
framework, it seems to forget about what it wants to do with it next.
HERCULES is also a tonally fractured effort at best, and Ratner
seems to lack the affinity or even common sense as to what precise kind of film
he’s trying to make. Sometimes,
HERCULES is a self-referential comedy with in-jokes and anachronistic
language (characters frequently drop modern colloquial vulgarity for
reasons never fully explained, which draws you immediately out of its
fantastical universe). Other
times, Hercules wants to be a somber investigation into its character’s
damaged past. Worse yet, the film attempts, I think, to be a whimsically
freewheeling, family-friendly adventure yarn, but then degenerates into
blood curdling violence that pushes the boundaries of its own PG-13
rating. This has to be one of
the most schizophrenically light-dark films I’ve seen.
I don’t blame Johnson for this film’s failures. Not at all. He’s the kind of star that seems proverbially born to embody Hercules on a physical and dramatic level, and for that the film is a modest success. I only wished that the film built around Johnson’s not-too-inconsiderable talents were better tailored towards them. A film trying to pare down an iconic figure of godlike stature to human-like standards – albeit still with freakish strength and resolve – is a tricky proposition, but HERCULES is simply not the film to tackle it with any confidence and interest. The film has its pleasures, to be sure (witnessing Johnson beat multiple enemies to a pulp with his hilariously massive club is a hoot and never gets old), but, for the most part, HERCULES is thematically muddled, visually dark and ugly (the 3D here mixed with Dante Spinotti’s dreary cinematography is a real turn off) and kind of dramatically D.O.A.. This film ultimately needs a Zeus-thrown lightning bolt of inspiration.