BWW Reviews: The Rock Turns into a Grecian Superhero in HERCULES
Hercules, as the story goes, is the half-mortal son of Zeus, King of the Gods... or is that just a rumor? The new "Hercules" movie out this week, starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as the most famous of Greek God offspring, asks the audience to question everything that they know about this millennia-old myth. The film's script asks us to wonder if Hercules is truly a demi-god or just a mercenary with good PR. But the film's tone and feel presents us with a less philosophical version of the same question, is he more Superman or Batman? While these questions lay out a compelling introductory act to the film, one that touches on themes of guilt, fate, and faith, they are unfortunately abandoned as the movie becomes more action-focused in the later reels.
It doesn't take long into the movie's nearly 100-minute running time to realize that director Brett Ratner is hoping that this will become the tent-pole for a mythology based superhero franchise; "The Ancient Avengers" perhaps. To be fair, I could think of many far-worse ways to spend a few hours every other summer. Ostensibly based on the graphic novel "Hercules: The Thracian Wars" by Steve Moore, the movie has a slightly more traditional style than Frank Miller's "300", but it's action and effects are nonetheless exciting.
The film chronicles what is supposed to be Hercules' last adventure, as he, aided by his team of "hired swords," is finally on the brink of earning enough gold to retire to the beaches of the Black Sea and to live a solitary life as a fugitive from Athens; where he is accused of murdering his wife and children.
Along with childhood friend Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), prophet Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), animal-like fighter Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), Amazon-archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), and his hype-man cousin Iolaus, Hercules travels to Thrace at the behest of Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) to help her father Lord Cotys (John Hurt) defend his kingdom against the warlord Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann). In doing so, Hercules must confront what he wants his legend to be, and, more importantly, what type of man he wants to be. As is pretty much standard operating procedure in superhero films, there is a double-cross or two along the way, and while that they happened was anticipated, what they actually were was not. So kudos to Ratner on that.
Throughout their journeys, Hercules and his team show off a number pretty fancy fighting sequences, that maintain a nice balance of humor, creativity, and bada$$ary. We learn how Hercules actually accomplished his famed 12 Labors and seem him lead a battle against the equivalent of Grecian zombies (a scene which doesn't much make sense when considered in retrospect). These scenes won't be as memorable as other comic-book based battles, but they were more than diverting enough to entertain in this lackluster summer-movie season.
Whether it is bodyslamming wrestlers, or bodyslamming Grecians, Johnson is an extremely charismatic action hero. He also leads a cast that has surprisingly strong comic timing. In the vein of the "Iron Man" and "The Avengers" movies, there is an ample amount of humor amidst the butt-kicking in the film. The hulked-up Rock might not be destined to ever don a cape or a cowl, but he more than earns his superhero stripes in "Hercules." I just wish Ratner hadn't glossed over his origin story, so we knew exactly which universe we were in.
And of course there is no use complaining about
historical mythological inaccuracies in a film where a Greek God is played quite well by a half-African-American and half-Samoan actor. Also not helping in the inaccuracies department is the fact that everyone in this ancient Greece speaks with a British accent. Why has that become the default acting choice for every movie set somewhere other than the here and now?
Check out the trailer below:
"Hercules" starring Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell and Joseph Fiennes is now in theaters nationwide and is rated PG-13 (for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity).
Did you join The Rock on his journey to ancient Greece? Do you think that "Hercules" has the strength to carry a franchise? Let me know what you think in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt.