Director: Brett Ratner
Writers: Ryan J. Condal & Evan Spiliotopoulos (based on Hercules: The Tracian Wars by Steve Moore & Admira Wijaya)
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures & Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Askel Hennie, Reece Ritchie, Rebecca Ferguson, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan, Irina Shayk
Release Date: July 25, 2014
MPAA: Rated PG-13
Welcome to another installment of MOVIE MONDAYS. This week we take a look at the latest entry in the recently reinvigorated “sword and sandal” genre, HERCULES.
Based on the comic book mini-series Hercules: The Tracian Wars by Steve Moore (who apparently was never paid for his property due to contract loop holes), this movie tells the story of Greek hero Hercules (which is actually his Roman name).
A more apt description would be that this film tells the “true” story of Hercules, focusing on one of his many unrecorded adventures and shedding light on the “truth” behind his famous Twelve Labors. Does the movie provide a Herculean epic that lives up to its namesake? Let’s get right down to the nitty-gritty and find out!
The story starts out with Hercules’ nephew recounting the tale of Hercules single-handedly slaying the Nemean Lion, a gigantic beast several times larger than the largest lion. He recounts this tale to a band of marauders who are about to kill him, as he threatens that his mighty uncle Hercules is on his way to rescue him and kill anyone who opposes him. When we first see Hercules, clad in leathers and proudly wearing the pelt of the lion as a cape and the hollowed out head of the lion as a head-dress, the audience should pick up that the story doesn’t match the reality, the pelt and head of the lion on display being much smaller than the lion in the story.
After Hercules dispatches the marauders with the help of his companions, fellow mercenary adventurers, it is quickly revealed that the tales of Hercules feats of daring-do have been greatly exaggerated as a form of psychological warfare, designed to boost the morale of his compatriots while instilling fear in his enemies.
It’s a wonderful take on the classic myth, using the “the story behind the story you thought you knew” technique seen in films such as Beowulf and Troy. One interesting aspect of this film that sets it apart from those however, is the fact that this movie keeps the truth of Hercules’ status as a demi-god somewhat ambiguous, lending evidence to both sides of the story.
All in all, it’s a rather excellent bit of story-telling.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good, and that excellent bit of story-telling is brought down by some rather mediocre acting and scripting.
The script itself is fairly mediocre, with the usual American fantasy cliches (i.e. if they’re British they’re probably a villain), which makes the few “plot-twists” not necessarily predictable but certainly laughable. The dialogue and narration is cheesy and cliched, but almost in that tongue-in-cheek sort of way that makes it almost enjoyable.
And the acting from most of our supporting characters is only passable at best, ranging from overblown to wooden. John Hurt is one of the worst offenders, as if the veteran actor knew the movie wasn’t worth 100% of his effort, spending the first half of his performance sleep-walking through the role and the second half hamming it up with enthusiastic fervor. Dwayne Johnson’s performance is serviceable, not up to par with his acting in Snitch, but better than his hammier action performances from films like The Scorpion King and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Ian McShane as Amphiaraus seems to be having the most fun, playing an out-and-out action hero, smiling for the camera as he spins around in wildly choreographed fight scenes while also providing superb comic relief.
The two worst offenses for the dialogue stem from one missing scene and one scene that should have been cut.
In the promotional media for the film an exchange of dialogue occurred between Hercules and a rival character, wherein the rival teases Hercules about not being as imposing in stature as the legends would have one believe, to which Hercules replies “And yet you stand in my shadow”. An excellent exchange that was inexplicably missing from the final cut. I know this is an unorthodox criticism, but it was actually the scene I was looking forward to the most, so I feel cheated out of what would have been my second favorite part of the movie.
The other is a short quip made by Hercules after dispatching a deadly opponent, where he drops an F-Bomb. I have nothing against the F-word, but it felt out of place in this film and more importantly felt forced and winking as if it were only there to pander to the 13 year old boys in the crowd.
The best bit of dialogue comes from an exchange between Hercules and Amphiaraus, during the third act, when Hercules has all but given up and it essentially serves as the pep-talk in a sports movie or the rousing speech before the big battle scene.
And it’s every bit as cheesy as one might expect from such a scene, but the melodramatic way in which it’s delivered just makes it so much fun you can’t help but feel excited up when it happens.
Being an action movie, one might expect weak dialogue since exposition isn’t necessarily the focus, which is generally forgivable because you’re there for the action, right?
Well, that would be fine and dandy except that some of the action in this movie is unforgivably bad. The opening fight scene and the final battle of the movie are pretty fantastic, but the big battle in the middle is absolutely terrible.
Going on for far too long, it’s too full of overblown, preposterous, ridiculous action sequences, and absurd gadgets like a chariot that has unfolding mechanical blades that unfurl from the sides. I would have fallen asleep if not for the constant screaming, and I do mean constant. From the second the fight starts for what seems like an eternity, the attackers scream in shrill battle-cries non-stop until the scene comes to a much-needed end.
One of the best parts of the movie, as mentioned before, is the “truth behind the legend” nature of the story. Throughout the movie the audience is treated to bits of story and flashback showcasing parts of the legend and parts of the truth. Some parts of the legend are contradicted, while other parts aren’t. And the battles show Hercules doing things that no normal man could ever do, but not necessarily things too far beyond feats of strength shown in strongman competitions (you know the type, where men drag 18-wheelers by a chain).
It’s an excellent touch that comes with not one but TWO amazing payoffs during the films climactic third act. While discussing the “truth behind the legend” aspect of the film, it should be pointed out that viewers should really stick around for the credits, as they show beautifully created scenes of Hercules completing his Labors with his compatriots, in a CGI art-style that harkens back to the comic it’s based on.
The movie is more or less what one might expect from a typical sword and sandal movie. It’s not mind-blowing or game-changing or ground-breaking or any other descriptor of that type. But it is fun. If you go into this movie expecting some award-winning critical darling, then you’ll be very disappointed. If you go in hoping for a fun popcorn summer action flick that gets your blood pumping and delivers a good time, then you’re in for a treat. I grew up watching the 1950s Hercules movies starring Steve Reeves and the Kevin Sorbo television series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and I adored them for the cheesy fun times they were. And I enjoy this movie for all the same reasons.
This film is certainly not perfect and has its fair share of faults, but it’s still better than average and a good time at the movies. Hercules is a solid 7 out of 10.