Directed by Brett Ratner
Starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson seems like a really nice guy who honestly loves what he does, so its easy to root for him to get a place in a film that rewards his boundless enthusiasm. He’s found a home in the Fast & Furiousfranchise, but his solo efforts have been less than impressive – remember Faster or Snitch? Now, at last, with Hercules, we get a film that, while not exactly groundbreaking, provides a rollicking framework within which Johnson can be the effortlessly charismatic man-mountain he is.
Loosely based on the comic Hercules: The Thracian Wars written by the late Steve Moore (and Alan “no relation” Moore has a bone to pick with the producers on behalf of his deceased friend, if you care to Google) the film sees Hercules (Johnson) as leader of a band of mercenaries, using his legendary status as a psychological weapon against the brigands they’re hired to dispatch. Recruited by the Thracian Lord Cotys(John Hurt) to put down an incursion by the warlord Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann), Herc and his helpers soon find themselves befuddled, betrayed and fighting for their lives against all comers.
This iteration of Hercules is less of a sword and sandals epic than a “guys on a mission movie” and Hercules’ mercenary band feel a lot like Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen’s gunfighters in The Magnificent Seven – Rufus Sewell’s Autolycus even has a similar character arc to Brad Dexter’s Harry Luck. This is actually one of the film’s big strengths; it never takes itself too seriously and is more concerned with providing a fun ride than with notions of historical or mythical fidelity or heavy-handed posturing.
It even has something interesting to say about the nature of myth, which puts it in territory explored by another Western, John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Hercules the man is a formidable warrior, no doubt, but it’s the story of Hercules the demigod and his 12 Labours that is the most potent weapon in his arsenal. However, this is still an over the top action blockbuster and you may find yourself wondering if, in a world where a man can judo flip a galloping horse, the distinction between mortal and immortal is really worth quibbling over.
A talented supporting cast who are clearly aware of the type of film they’ve signed on for keep things entertaining, with Ian McShane picking up MVP for his turn as the cynical seer, Amphiaraus and, whatever his limitations, director Brett Ratner knows both how to slap together an entertaining action sequence and how to make his leading man look awe-inspiring. Hercules is really just damn good fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that.