Hercules (United States, 2014)

July 25, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Hercules Poster

These days, it seems damn near everything is based on a comic book, and not all the resultant cinematic material is worth the effort taken to adapt it. Certainly, Hercules is a big-budget misfire of a sizeable order, a visually busy but emotionally dead endeavor that wearies the viewer with endless computer generated special effects while failing to provide a scintilla of human interest. Director Brett Ratner has always been associated with spectacle but, even for him, this represents a misstep because the "wow!" factor is muted.

To be fair, Hercules boasts an intriguing premise, although little is done with it. In this world, there may or may not be gods - that much is unclear and none makes a personal appearance - but Hercules (played by Dwayne Johnson with his best Schwarzenegger physique) isn't the son of Zeus. In fact, he's an orphan. His reputation as a demi-god has been contrived over the years and it allows him to make good coin as a mercenary who trades on his image. Yes, this could have led to an interesting story, but that would have been a Ridley Scott movie not a Brett Ratner one. Instead, we end up with Hercules and his band of five merry men (actually four men and one woman) agreeing to help Lord Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt) fight a civil war against a rebel with a reputation for sorcery. Hercules exacts a high price for his participation, makes goo-goo eyes at Cotys' daughter, Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), participates in a training montage, then goes off to war. This involves two large scale battles. After the second one, the movie realizes there are a lot of unresolved plot threads, so it cobbles together their outcomes into a half-hour narrative mess that varies from slightly idiotic to downright moronic. However, because we're not supposed to be overly worried about logic, we can settle back and enjoy a few more fight scenes.

Hercules' character arc, to the extent that he can boast one, takes him from the role of a cold-hearted mercenary who cares only about money to a principled hero. The scenes in which Hercules battles monsters - hydras, Cerebrus, etc. - are cheats. The represent either depictions of the tall tales told about the man or his visions. The closest he gets to fighting a beast is when he takes on three wolves. Overall, this feels more like a hybrid of Conan the Barbarian and 300 (although it isn't as good as either) than a Clash of the Titans.

Although it's obvious for marketing reasons why Hercules sought a PG-13 reason, there's an R-rated movie aching to burst out. Both Conan and 300 carried an R for sex and violence but the PG-13 requires Hercules to neuter both. I can't argue that the movie would have been appreciably better if it was awash in blood and boobs but it probably would have been more entertaining. This isn't a long film - less than 100 minutes - but there are times when, despite all the "action," it drags.

It will surprise no one that, although Johnson does a capable job flexing his biceps as the title character, his performance is less than memorable. Most of his co-stars are equally forgettable with a couple of exceptions. The amazing Ian McShane once again takes a nothing role (in this case, one of the members of Hercules' band) and makes something out of it. Rufus Sewell, who is Hercules' best buddy, Autolycus, does his best Harrison Ford/Han Solo interpretation. Neither John Hurt nor Joseph Fiennes presents an impressive villain although Peter Mullan, stuck in the "henchman" role, is thoroughly dislikeable.

Hercules seems geared toward boys in the age 10-14 range who have nothing better to do than watch a big-screen version of stuff they're used to seeing in video games. Having watched the movie in 2-D, I can't comment on whether it's better in 3-D, but that's hard to imagine. If Johnson was hoping for this to be a breakthrough opportunity, it's back to the drawing board. The movie might have fun demythologizing its title character but, once it gets past that point, it doesn't know what to do and proceeds along those lines for another 90 minutes.

Hercules (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 1:38
U.S. Release Date: 2014-07-25
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1