By Bill Nelson
Well, folks, it’s Tuesday again. You know what that means, right? This week we’re going to take a look at one of last summer’s attempts at a blockbuster hit. I’m surprised that Brett Ratner hasn’t already ended up on Bad Movie Tuesday after the affront that was X-Men: The Last Stand, but he really hasn’t been as active behind the camera in recent years as he was since his breakout success with the first Rush Hour movie in the late 90s. Here we have the wannabe action master taking on an honest to goodness sword and sandal epic. Let’s see what kind of fun we can have with it.
Hercules actually became something of a surprise hit when it came out last summer. Of course, that has more to do with the popularity and likability of its star, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, than the actual quality of the film. The film itself isn’t so horrible it’s unwatchable, just wildly uneven. The Rock’s charisma carries huge portions of the film that would have fallen flat otherwise.
For those that don’t know, here’s the breakdown. In Greek mythology, Hercules is the son of the king of the gods, Zeus, and a mortal woman name Alcemene. Hercules is blessed with the strength of a god but is hated by his stepmother, Zeus’s wife Hera. Hera does her level best to kill Hercules throughout his entire life, finally forcing him to face a series of trials in order to earn his place among the gods on Mount Olympus but sabotages them in the hope that he dies. In the myth, Herc succeeds and is raised up to Mount Olympus, but the movie takes a slightly different tack.
Instead of presenting the mythology of Hercules as fact, it takes a step back and reimagines Hercules as a mortal man who has developed a reputation for fantastic feats of strength and battle prowess. Seeing the power behind this as a weapon against his enemies, Hercules has played up his own mythology to make himself seem unbeatable, gathering a cadre of warriors who fight with him from the shadows to make it seem as if he is nigh unstoppable. It also reinterprets the myths surrounding Herc slightly, making you stop to think about what they might really have represented in real life. For example, when turning in the heads of the Hydra, it is revealed that they are actually the heads of men wearing reptilian masks creating the implication that the Hydra was actually a gang of thieves using the story of the beast to scare people.
This actually works a lot to the flick’s benefit because it rounds out Hercules a bit and keeps you from seeing him as a completely infallible character. Plus, since the film intentionally keeps the actual parentage of Hercules a secret, it turns into a playful mystery as to whether or not he is, in fact, a demigod. The problem is that the movie really doesn’t give you any hints one way or the other whether the gods actually exist. They are spoken of as religious figureheads throughout the film, but there aren’t any specific moments where you can point and say that happened because of a god. It plays it straight until **SPOILER ALERT** Hercules needs to be a god in order to defeat his enemies. He’d performed several feats that, while not physically impossible for a mortal man, were at the far fringes of one’s limits, over the course of the film but suddenly in the last act he’s shown doing things far beyond the abilities of any human being. For me this was what ruined the film because, while the scenes were spectacular, they went against everything we’d been shown for the previous hour and a half.
The acting is about as tongue in cheek as you can get from the main crew. The Rock gives his usual grin and pummel performance that works so well for him. Quite frankly, there aren’t really any action stars in the newer generation that are as adept at handling both the action and the comedy as well as him. Rufus Sewell gives a borderline scene stealing performance as Autolycus, reimagined from the greatest thief in Greece to a Spartan warrior who fights alongside Hercules. Quite frankly, he gets most of the best one liners in the flick. Ian McShane plays an elderly mystic warrior fighting alongside Hercules as well and whatever good lines Sewell doesn’t get he chomps right down on. They along with The Rock make up the best parts of the movie. It’s the villains that drag it down acting wise. John Hurt may be British acting royalty, but he’s woefully miscast as a king seemingly looking out for his people’s best interest while working his own agenda and Joseph Fiennes is givn far too little screen time to even bear mentioning The action sequences are solid and the battles are well shot if occasionally a little confusing. Ratner is clearly more comfortable directing these types of scenes than in developing any kind of story or building his characters beyond stereotypes, but he lacks Michael Bay’s skill for crafting a ballet out of chaos.
It’s kind of sad in a way. I went into this movie expecting to hate it and as I watched it found myself really wanting to like it. By the time it was done, the best I could say was that I didn’t hate it. I enjoyed the way they played with the nature of mythology. I just wish that Ratner and his team had committed more to that aspect. It would have been fun to have teases that the gods were present throughout the movie without actually saying they were responsible for anything. All in all, though, this is an average action flick without anything in it worth really remembering.
Stank Ranking - – 7/10