The second Hercules movie this year and with Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson up front as the demigod himself and ‘Rush Hour’ director Brett Ratner taking the camera, this sword and sandals tale does exactly what you would expect from it. There are some slightly off kilter moments that question the idea of legends, stories and the like but on the whole there’s no huge surprises in the story. It’s glossy, fiery and big on action.
It’s a very seesawing Greek epic featuring the well known myth of Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and this film’s plot focuses on him after he has completed the twelve labours. He and a loyal group of fighting followers take on the role of assisting Lord Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt) to stop a deranged warlord violating towns and restore order to the land. Though Hercules and his merry band of helpers may soon be facing a wider threat than once assumed.
I honestly didn’t hate this movie, or even dislike it. I’m just, well sort of meh about it. It does as it says on the tin (or poster to be more accurate) but the main issue this movie has can be found within the constant attempts at humour, more often than not coming from Rufus Sewell’s Autolycus who drops one liners like some shoddy resemblance of a pre Craig Bond. Some hit as true as Atalanta’s arrows but some make the tense environment fall flat. It’s this blending of humour and suspenseful drama/action that more often than not doesn’t work. It tries to do something different in offering the grand stories of Hercules as maybe less than the legends they’re told to be but this crack at being serious in the heart of a quite camp silly adventure flick never reaches the bulls eye it hopes to get to.
The line up of characters that stand up and fight for Hercules are cool enough to try and overlook the stiff uninteresting plot. There’s the comic guy as mentioned who dispatches knives like a boss. Autolycus (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) proves a feisty Amazonian warrior with a double bladed bow to top off her ballet like skills at firing arrows. A silent and crazed by night Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) can come at the enemy with two axes and a mad man attitude to kill pretty much everyone. A supposed seer named Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) acts as the push to Hercules to get him to act as the hero he needs to be and then there’s the annoying one who is pretty much just a storyteller and Hercules’ cousin for the entire movie. That title goes to Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), poor fella, not much action for him to get his teeth into.
Of course a film of this genre utilises on a heck of a load of slow motion which does well to over dramatize the action or sword throwing. At least Ratner knows how to use this unlike Michael Bay who uses slow-mo like a kid who has discovered a new button to play with. The few battle sequences in this film are shot well and the beautiful landscapes of Thracian mountains make for a atmospheric setting for these guys and gal to go at each other. The fighting build up is mostly seen through training led by Hercules to make Cotys’ men better. The following shots of making walls of shields and thrusting with spears etc leads to a Mulan-esque ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You’ montage as they increase in skill. The brutal nature of Grecian war is toned down slightly for the 12 certification but there is still a necessary amount of blood left to convince us that Hercules lives in a time of danger and darkness.
Dwayne Johnson is The Rock no more and his fitness regimes to play this part are well seen by the humongous muscles that flex on the big screen. He was born to play Hercules and even if his lines are wooden, his fighting is not. John Hurt comes out with the most dignity left I would say as his character evolves and a scene in particular nearing the end in a dingy damp dungeon gives Hurt a chance to showcase his better dramatic chops, so too with Joseph Fiennes who grapples with some tense and bubbling dialogue to face off against Hercules with. Bolso Berdal is a Norwegian beauty who convinces with her aptitude for archery and looks like a Nicole Kidman, not a comment on her acting I grant you but I couldn’t help thinking she did.
This movie does become little more than a political mesh of kings uniting and a revenge story to carry our hero along to the end but there are some good scenes that dazzle with action. It’s a fun film if nothing else and at least you can leave the cinema with the knowledge that there’s worse out there, it truly isn’t awful believe me, it’s watchable, entertaining and pacy that the film shuttles along at breakneck speed.
Try and forgive the way it messes with some aspects of Greek mythology, look past the attempts at dramatic storytelling to shed light on legends not being what they seem and just settle into your seat and enjoy the tongue in cheek madness and fun that can be found in this movie.