August 16, 2014 Leave a comment
Tormented by the screams of his young family, and uncertain of his own role in their deaths, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is nevertheless worshiped the land over as the demigod son of Zeus and the champion of the legendary Twelve Labours. Although widely believed to work alone, Herucles in fact leads a band of mercinaries including prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), thief Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who assist him in his battles. Bought by gold, the mercinaries ally themselves with Lord Cotys (John Hurt) of Thrace, agreeing to help train his armies against the invading forces of Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann). Hercules, however, is plagued by dreams of Cerberus, the three headed hellhound that guards the gates to the underworld. But does it herald his own death, or signify something else entirely?
The latest film from Brett Ratner, and based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, Paramount’s Hercules is the second film based on the demigod to arrive in cinemas this year, after Summit’s poorly reviewed The Legend of Hercules. A slightly less predictable take on the myth, Ratner’s movie posits a hero of great PR rather than of divine destiny; a man whose reputation doesn’t so much precede him as put him on an unearned pedestal. The people of Thrace see him as the champion who slayed the hydra, when in fact he and his men merely slaughtered an army of soldiers in elaborate headgear. Unfortunately, this isn’t the film that was sold to audiences through it’s multi-million dollar marketing campaign, and anyone drawn in by the promise of giants boars and invulnerable lions will likely be disappointed when they both debunked and dispensed with during the opening salvo. Alternatively, anyone put off by the trailer’s frankly awful special effects needn’t worry that they might blight the entire movie.
Sadly, that’s where the surprises end. The problem with Ratner is that rather than rubbish his own scripts he routinely chooses to sully the work of others. As with Red Dragon and X-Men: The Last Stand, the script for Hercules isn’t entirely without merit. Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos go to some unexpectedly mature places with their screenplay; not just the infanticide that robbed Hercules of his children but the fact that the film’s hero is little more than a liar and a cheat. The dialogue isn’t anything particularly special, but nor is it completely trite either. If the pair have written a dark drama, eschewing humour in favour of taking their characters seriously, Ratner has directed a comedy, which has the unfortunate effect of inviting laughter at said characters rather than with. The sets look fake, the costumes look cheap and many of the characters look terribly miscast. Close your eyes and you could be watching 300, plug your ears and This Is Sparta is more likely to come to mind.
For once, not even The Rock can save his film from failure. Johnson looks a little lost in the main role, his usual presence and charisma only evident in fleeting glances and occasional snatches of levity. He’s undoubtedly a physical fit for the character but then so was Kellan Lutz; Johnson has proved himself not only as an action hero but as an actor, and his abilities are sadly wasted here. Hardly anyone makes much of an impression, with John Hurt phoning in the exact same performance he used previously in Immortals and Joseph Fiennes relegated to the sidelines, so much so that until he reappears you’ve all but forgotten he was even in the film to begin with. The only actor who seems to be having any fun is Ian McShane, who steals every scene he’s in as a prophet who has foreseen his own death. It’s not just the character’s comic value (he stands in front of a barrage of arrows already knowing that he will survive) but his capacity for pathos. As he walks through a field of corpses he admits that he hates being right all the time. It’s as poignant as Hercules gets.
Although it may play down divine providence, Hercules is nonetheless destined to disappoint. Whether you’re in it for the monsters, the comedy or the Grecian tragedy, Brett Ratner has ushered you in under false pretences. It might not be the worst Hercules film of the year, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling like hardest Labour of all.