Release: Friday, July 25, 2014
I think everyone who sees this one ought to go out and show their support by buying a Dwayne ‘Hercules’ Johnson action-hero figurine, complete with brown undies and epic flowing hair and redonkulous chest-piece. I don’t care what it takes, just get it done: “Hey kids, get in the van ‘cuz we’re going to Mickey-D’s to get Happy Meals just for the toy!”
Abundant are the gimmicks churned out by Hollywood that seem to attract a much wider audience than they should. You can tack Dwayne ‘The Rock’ (or wait, should it really be ‘Hercules’ now?) Johnson’s most recent summer romp onto that ever-growing list. But this, the Brett Ratner-directed and shameless harkening back to Dwayne’s glory days of dropkicking motherf*ckers left and right, has a zing to it. The former wrestler clad in prehistoric undergarments and a lion’s head as a skull cap. Tell me precisely how that doesn’t sell tickets.
Well, it did. But not an incredible amount. With its inane sci-fi competitor debuting the same weekend, Hercules took a slight slap in the face with a second-place gross opening of $28 million. (Oh, Lucy, you’re such a bitch!) But I suppose all’s fair in. . .what is this, guilty-pleasure entertainment. . .right? Lucy touted a sexy cast and some gee-golly-willickers special effects. If you were at the theater that weekend, there’s a 50-50 chance you found yourself giggling over ever-so-slight hints of homoeroticism in a professional wrestler-turned-actor, one of the (physically) biggest dudes to ever put on the acting cap, now fleeing from his clothes one badass adventure at a time.
Rumored to be the demigod son of Zeus, Hercules is somewhat burdened with beyond-legendary status throughout the land, and the word has been spreading of his completion of the Twelve Labors, a series of impossible tasks intended to separate the mortal from the. . .well, the ones who can’t die. Like, ever. But Hercules, in the wake of his refusal to accept his all-too-mythical conception and duties as a demigod to this mortal world, insists he be treated as another man. In his humbleness, he has accepted the assistance of several skilled personnel who surround him at all times.
There’s Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), a man who most often resists his temptation for wealth and gold to fight the good fight alongside his fellow man; Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), a woman warrior no man would ever dare to cross; Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), a hideously ugly man born in the midst of battle who knows only violence and bloodshed; and everyone’s favorite off-his-rocker prophet, Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) whose visions of his own death are not so impending as they are enlightening and help him in battle each and every time. Together this gang helps to dispel the myth that Hercules works alone and is anything more than a large man with titanic strength. Oh, but is he?
Brett Ratner pushes the pace of his story at quite a fine rate as we move along a series of spectacularly scenic action set pieces including grassy battlefields, murky swamplands, dank temples and vast, sweeping plains backed by towering majestic peaks. The scenery no doubt helps off-set the trademark-Ratner clunky dialogue and awkward tonal shifts. In fact it’s one of the more pleasant surprises with Hercules that nothing ever slows to such a crawl we’re allowed to over-think what’s being laid out before us. There’s every opportunity for the more cynical of us to do so anyway, and that’s all well and good but to do so too frequently would be to invite arguments as to why you are even sitting in this theater in the first place. The film dispenses of realism and opts not to take the legend all that seriously.
As if we were going to accuse Ratner of fraud with this guy in this role. What does feel a little fraudulent here are the occasional detours into full-blown drama territory. The basic plot hinges on Hercules’ muscle-for-hire and his band of dedicated warriors. When they are informed of a particular Greek province, Thrace, coming under attack by a ruthless warlord named Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann) they instantly focus their lifelong camaraderie into converting the legions of Thracian farmhands into merciless killing machines. They will be rewarded handsomely for their efforts, but alas, a caveat: King Cotys (John Hurt), the man whose daughter, Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) made them the offer to become local heroes, isn’t all he seems to be. Bulging with desire to be supreme ruler of all the Greek territories, it is the conflict once inside Thrace that puts a strain on Hercules physically, emotionally and ethically. Is he just another peasant after his pot of gold, or is there something more lurking underneath those bulging biceps and tattered-ass loincloth?
Ratner attempts to draw those conclusions but under the umbrella of a summer action flick, tongue held firmly in cheek because he knows what he is getting away with here. The crossover into profundity not only feels awkward but its handled somewhat heavy-handedly, making for some unnecessarily stilted monologues and admissions of guilt. Changes of heart feel more like changes in the script, conveniently edited clips that pander to the perfect Hollywood ending rather than one befitting of a demigod struggling to find his true identity.
Recommendation: Hercules is exactly what any reasonable person might expect. Often times you’ll find the movie poster that doesn’t reveal a great deal about its content other than its impressive cast or maybe even a particularly striking shot from one moment in the film. In this case, in one glance you virtually know the entire ordeal.
Running Time: 98 mins.
Quoted: “F*cking centaurs!”
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