MOVIE REVIEW: HERCULES / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: BRETT RATNER / SCREENPLAY: RYAN J. CONDAL, EVAN SPILIOTOPOULOS / STARRING: DWAYNE JOHNSON, JOHN HURT, IAN MCSHANE / RELEASE DATE: JULY 25TH
Talk about playing to your strengths. With a body like a condom full of rocks, Dwayne Johnson was born to play mythical hero Hercules and definitely appears much more comfortable than Arnie ever did in Hercules in New York. Brett Ratner's new take on the old legend is based on the graphic novel by Steve Moore and has plenty to recommend it.
The supposed son of Greek God Zeus and a mortal mother, Hercules has only one of his legendary labours left to complete as the film begins. The previous labours are all summed up in a 'previously on Hercules' introduction before The Rock gets serious, taking on the Herculean task of building an army and fighting a war. The myths surrounding Hercules are well known across Thrace but he and his band of merry men (and one woman) are really just simple mercenaries out to gain enough gold for an early retirement. When Lord Cotys of Thrace (Hurt) asks for Hercules' help in quashing a deadly foe, he must battle his own personal demons and quite possibly some mythical creatures to save an empire.
So this is what The Rock has been building up to since taking on minor roles in films like The Scorpion King. Whereas that film was a disgraceful, turgid CGI mess, Hercules puts its hero front and centre and comes out on top. The muscle man who formerly rocked a fanny pack, now shows off more than just an impressive six pack. He's a decent actor, an alpha male with a heart, and a hugely impressive physical specimen. His Hercules certainly looks the business. Whether it’s years spent in the gym or the genes of a God that have made him that way, Dwayne Johnson is a convincing son of a God.
But Hercules himself is too earnest to be a really interesting character and even The Rock would find carrying this film a burden single-handedly. His tragic past and moody present as a mercenary warrior who just wants to seek solitude reeks of seen-it-all-before. Lucky then, that Hercules is surrounded by a colourful bunch of pantomime characters. Rufus Sewell shines in a rare role where he is not the instantly slappable bad guy, Ian McShane has a ball with his future-predicting visionary and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal is a brilliantly badass Amazonian archer. Refreshingly, it’s not just the female character who gets stuck in a mini-skirt either. Hercules has an embarrassment of riches in its cast, also boasting the likes of John Hurt and Peter Mullan in major roles. While there is nothing truly meaty for them to get their teeth into, they are still given enough to do to justify the paycheques.
Once Hercules gets past his CGI labours and gets to the battles, Ratner ups the ante with some vicious and impressive battle scenes. The lack of blood is sometimes disappointing but the mostly practical fight scenes (with some CGI noticeably but not intrusively used) create some satisfying carnage. The battles are immersive and tense and all the better for not being stuffed with CGI created ‘fucking centaurs’ as Hercules calls them.
As Hercules is tasked with turning farmers into soldiers, we get lumbered with the obligatory montage and there are no points for guessing any of the last act revelations. However, when the big man and his companions are threatened, it is still a pleasure to watch him unleash the beast on his captors. Sometimes, with all the sets, special effects and star power, you might just find your mind wandering, imagining what HBO could do given this kind of budget for the rest of Game of Thrones.
Still, after watching Dwayne Johnson pumping Fast and Furious and G.I. Joe full of his franchise Viagra, it is good to finally see him fill the frame as leading man. Hercules has been a labour of love for the ex-wrestler and his pet project doesn't disappoint. If you haven't already tried it, now might be a good time to smell what The Rock is cooking. It definitely doesn’t stink.
Expected Rating: 4 out of 10