IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 98 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Hercules is the leader of a band of mercenaries. He’s said to be the demigod son of Zeus the king of the Gods, and supposedly completed the legendary Twelve Labours, only to be betrayed by Zeus’s wife Hera, who drove him insane and caused him to murder his wife Megara and their children. Hercules has since rejected Zeus and chosen to live as a mortal. One day, Hercules and his men are approached by Ergenia on behalf of her father, Lord Cotys, who wants Hercules to train the armies of Thrace to defend the kingdom from bloodthirsty warlord Rheseus. Hercules accepts after each of his men is offered their weight in gold…..
God, it reminds of the early 90’s where you sometimes got two films about the same subject released within a few months of each other. I’ll never forget going into the cinema to see the Patrick Bergen Robin Hood and seeing signs up saying “this is NOT the Kevin Costner Robin Hood Prince Of Thieves” which was still to come out but already had attracted a lot of interest. This year has given us two films about Hercules, whose story, if done accurately [honestly, you wouldn’t need to invent a thing], could result in a truly stunning fantasy epic of The Lord Of The Rings proportions. Earlier this year we got the pretty lame The Legend Of Hercules, which basically ‘re-imagined’ the tale as a lame Gladiator knock-off. Now we have Hercules, and even a while back it seemed that we would have a repeat of the Robin Hood situation, where not only would people ignore the first film and flock to the second, but the second film would be much better and do more justice to the mythology, early signs indicating they were going to show Hercules’ Twelve Labours, as exciting a series of sequences ripe for filming as you can get.
It hasn’t proved to be quite like that. This film isn’t flopping quite as hard as the other, but it’s still disappointing at the box office, and, while it is considerably better than the Kellan Lutz version, in no way is it the Hercules film I’ve imagined in my mind since I first read the story as a kid. It is, though, quite an enjoyable sword and sandal actioner if you forget it’s supposed to be about Hercules. Its basic idea is quite a sound one. Hercules is no demi-god with amazing strength who slays lots of monsters. Instead, he’s a mortal with more normal abilities whose deeds have been exaggerated, and who is often made to look good by his companions. As handled during some of the film, it’s a nice commentary on our need for heroes [we live in a time when people seem to need them more than ever, at least of the ‘’super’ kind] and also how stories are elaborated when passed on. Unfortunately the film inexplicably forgets its original purpose sometimes and contradicts itself by showing Hercules actually having superhuman strength in places [an early scene shows him stomping on a cart so it’s raised into the air, then kicking it so it speeds off towards a group of bad guys, impaling one on some convenient spikes], especially near the end when all seems lost for the good guys. The climax certainly gives us some of the Hercules action we want, but the supposed purpose of the film is thereby defeated.
Hercules opens with a bit of narration and clips from bits of his life, including some of the Twelve Labours, with the Hydra especially suffering from poor CGI, though even if you don’t know the original story you’ll probably laugh when we are told that Hercules’ slaying of a lion [far better looking than the one in the Legend Of Hercules, if hardly convincing] was the most difficult of his tasks. Then again, we are soon informed that what we have just seen and heard is actually false, and later on we even see evidence that the Hydra was not even a real monster. We do get a ‘real’ action scene almost immediately as Hercules and his companions battle some pirates. The other members of his gang are the prophet Amphairaus, the thief Autolycus, the warrior Tydeus, the female archer [actually an Amazon] Atalanta who may just have well have been called Legolas, and the storyteller Iolaus. They are a fun bunch right from the offset and help give the impression that, while it seems determined to reverse our expectations about a Hercules picture, it’ll be good fun.
Hercules and co. get recruited to help defend a town, and we even get a troop training scene reminiscent of Seven Samurai. Then again, this is another movie which, if you ignore its amusing central conceit, seems largely made up of the parts of others. Studios have been trying to recapture the inexplicable success of 300 for ages, and this one even copies some scenes from that film. I couldn’t help but wonder why they couldn’t have thought up a better, more original and imaginative storyline [it’s based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, which apparently doesn’t have Hercules be who he is largely because of very good PR, and which I assume is what Alan Moore objected to] to go with the revisionist approach to Hercules. It all boils down to a load of battles, which is fine if you like your battles [I certainly do], but it doesn’t seem like you’re watching a Hercules movie for much of the time. Around two thirds of the way through there’s a twist so that Hercules can battle a load more people. He also has to battle his own demons, notably a vision of Cerberus the three-headed dog and the realisation that he killed his wife and kids. I was most impressed that they included that part of the story, though you barely see it.
The action is very well handled by Brett Ratner, a director many seem to hate on for some reason [possibly because of X-Men: The Last Stand, which was ages ago, a project which Ratner came late to, and whose only big problem was that it crammed in too much]. He can always be relied on to turn out a tight picture with little fat and is certainly good with action. The battle scenes in Hercules are very well choreographed with good use of aerial shots and just the right amount of close shots without becoming the one-second edit, shakycam blur that many filmmakers unaccountably seem to employ at the moment. They’re also pretty brutal, with lots of gory detail for a ‘12A’ certificate. Three scenes were slightly cut at the behest of the BBFC [I guess we’ll see an uncut Blu-ray] to get that all-important 12A, but it remains ridiculous how tame stuff like The Amazing Spiderman 2 and far more vicious fare like this can both get the same rating. The way we’re going, everything will end up with either a 12A or a U certificate!
Dwayne Johnson is a decent Hercules – I like the guy and he has charisma though he’s a very limited actor – while many of the other cast members seem to be having fun. Ian McShane especially seems to enjoy his role as Amphairaus, the prophet who thinks each battle could be his last. Some of his lines got some laughs at the screening I was at, while it was also nice to see Rufus Sewell in a film like this playing a good guy. The composer of the film’s score Fernando Velazquez is a very talented movie score composer but, like the work of many others these days, too much of his score for Hercules has obviously been through the deadening Hollywood machine so it sounds like Hans Zimmer. It has some good moments though and a reasonable main theme. Though it doesn’t fulfil its potential and doesn’t entirely seem to know what to do with the great hero, I was surprised how much I enjoyed Hercules. It’s a half-decent sword and sandal action romp and better than at least two similar movies we’ve had recently, though my dream of a great, epic and accurate Hercules film continues….