Hercules! The son of Zeus! He killed the Nymerian Lion with his bare hands, and gave Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the perfect character to portray in this new Brett Ratner’s film, based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Tracian Wars. Because the world cannot keep spinning without Hollywood spewing out yet another mythology remake, here it is, the legend!
You may think you’ll be introduced to Hercules’s famous 12 Labours but, girl, aren’t you in the wrong place for this. This 90-minute popcorn muncher happens way after the myth was born, and points out to us that, well, most of the stories were fairly embellished. It is possible to see this as an interesting reinvention of the 80s trope of the normal guy who ends up a hero, only this time our normal guy is twice the size of the average human and can raise whole rocks with the force of his bare hands. He also has some funny friends that include sarcastic and underrated Rufus Sewell, an Amazonian that manages to be pretty bad-ass, a fortune teller that knows when he is going to die (he thinks), a guy with a traumatic past that does not talk (at least up until the emotional climax) and Hercules’s own nephew, that starts as the Antiquity’s version of a nerd but manages to learn important lessons with his muscle-bag-with-a-heart uncle and becomes a warrior. This bunch are now mercenaries working for money. After a rushed exit from Athens, they end up being hired to save poor old John Hurt from the rebels that are killing the people around his pacific and oh-so-just Tracian kingdom.
You clearly don’t need me to tell you you should not take this film seriously – if anything, it was directed by Ratner, for god’s sake. But that does not mean you should not enjoy it. It has plenty of action, battle scenes to make Age of Empires aficionados wet themselves, great humourous moments (mostly by Sewell and Ian McShane, both brilliant in it), some cheesy special effects and a final credits animation that should make Marvel Comics cry. Dwayne Johnson plays the part straightforward enough, and dares not to make it Oscar worthy – because that is not what the audience is looking for when we go to see a film with The Rock. We want to be entertained – and in that respect Hercules is the perfect mix of silliness with plot. If you’re really picky about historical accuracy, you can also point out that Heracles was the son of Zeus, Hercules being his Roman name – in that case you may be too intelligent to be allowed to watch summer blockbusters.
For a more serious review, we could point out that in a time when superheroes are becoming less and less “super” (Hancock, Batman, Kick-Ass), with Hercules, the demi-god is taken down to a very earthy level. Is this a sign of more cynical times, or the wish to show that you don’t have to be Zeus’s son to become a legend (the only thing you need is good PR)? We honestly don’t know – we were too distracted chewing popcorn and watching the battles to have time to notice.
Hercules is in the UK cinemas from 25th July 2014