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I AM HERCULES!
on 12 January 2015
One of the most interesting thing about mythology is considering: what people or events might have inspired legends of gods, heroes and monsters?
That question seems to have inspired "Hercules," the second movie about the Grecian strongman in less than a year... and thankfully, it involves no bleached-haired "Twilight" actors. Instead, this simple and cheesy yet action-packed story depicts a "realistic" Hercules played by the charismatic Dwayne Johnson, who is one of the few men alive who actually LOOKS like Hercules.
In this movie, Hercules (Johnson) is the leader of a band of mercenaries -- including an Amazon warrior, a thief, a feral berserker and a seer who is waiting for his death to turn up -- who take on ridiculously difficult tasks. Hercules' nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) works PR for them, spreading stories of how Hercules is supposedly the offspring of Zeus, explaining his ridiculously awesome strength. The reality is a bit more tragic, as indicated in flashbacks to his pre-merc days to a wife and children who have just two days until retirement.
Then Hercules is approached by Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), a Thracian princess whose dad Cotys (John Hurt) wants him to train his army to resist the warlord Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann). Hercules and his compatriots successfully fix up the rather pathetic army into a successful fighting force, and even lead them into battle... but soon Hercules begins to suspect that he and his followers have been tricked into being on the wrong side.
"Hercules" is a pure popcorn movie -- it has no pretensions of being deep or artistic, and while it's not a great movie, it's not a bad one either. It's basically a movie devoted to big smashy-shooty battles full of fire and Hercules hitting things with a club. And it doesn't take itself seriously, giving the characters a lot of funny moments ("Excuse me, that was my fate!") until things go dark at the climax.
And it is an interesting exercise in whatiffery: what if the legends of Hercules were based on a real man with abnormal strength? Fortunately, Brett Ratner doesn't try to make it TOO realistic, mainly by giving everything an over-the-top atmosphere -- sort of a lighter, less stylized "300" feel. It's handled in a manner cheesy enough to make it amusing, but not so cheesy that it becomes ridiculous.
And Dwayne Johnson... well, is there any other actor better suited to playing Hercules? He's huge, he has big muscles, he's good at one-liners, and he has buckets of charisma that just make him darn likable. But he's also able to handle the tragedy of Hercules' past nicely, and conveys his grief despite us seeing almost nothing of Herc's wife and kids.
That said, Johnson is the only main character who gets a lot of development -- out of his whole posse, only McShane's character gets more than a single character trait (Autolycus = greedy, Tydeus = animalistic, Atalanta = female), and they have some nice bonding moments. The other actors are quite good, but not given much, though Ferguson has a decent role as a sorta-kinda-maybe love interest, whose young son adores Hercules.
As for the villains... well, they're so cartoonishly evil that it becomes ridiculous. Joseph Fiennes is almost comically bad here, campily snickering and smarming until you wish he had a Snidely Whiplash mustache just so he could twirl it. Not since the "Twilight" movies have I been so... AMUSED by a villain.
"Hercules" isn't a great movie, but it's probably the best Hercules movie in decades -- wry, action-packed and with a clever meta-mythic twist. It's definitely worth a watch when you want some fiery, over-the-top action.