- RatedPG13 /GenreAction, Adventure
While 2014’s earlier offering of ‘The Legend of Hercules’ (starring Kellan Lutz of ‘Twilight’ fame) was all brawn and no brain, Brett Ratner’s version is supremely better, and surprisingly good.
Unlike its debacle of a predecessor, ‘Hercules’ is a good old fashioned action-adventure with plenty of heart, where the demi-God is humanised, a mortal who bleeds like the rest of us.
Based on the graphic novel ‘Hercules: The Thracian Wars’ by Steve Moore, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is a mercenary who has sold his soul for gold, killing for whichever king will pay him the highest.
Armed with a crew of five loyal adventurers and a tragic back story where his family has been killed off, Hercules is hired by Thracian king, Lord Cotys (John Hurt) to rid the land of its invaders and civil war.
REAL WORLD EXPLANATIONS
Hercules acknowledges that he is only human, that he is nothing without his supporting cast, a rag tag bunch each with their own strengths. There is Autolycus his trusted general (Rufus Sewell), Amphiaraus the seer (Ian McShane), Amazonian warrior Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), the twin axe-wielding Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) and Iolaus the silver-tongued storyteller (Reece Ritchie).
His humanity is further reinforced by illustrating his 12 ‘mythical labours’ with explanations rooted in reality. For instance, the mutli-headed serpentine Hydra is nothing but plunderers in snake masks, and Cerebrus, the three-headed dog of Haedes is revealed to be just that – a myth, made with the trickery of the mind and shadows.
And surprise, surprise! Not a single divinely-lit or golden-bodied “god” makes an appearance in the film, like most “swords and sandals” films are fond of.
Instead, the story focuses on “the truth behind the legend”, as pre-empted in the trailer where Amphiaraus says to Hercules - “Are you only the legend? Or are you the truth behind the legend?”
It seems only natural that Johnson would play Hercules, having successfully taken on another “swords and sandals” flick, namely 2002’s ‘The Scorpion King’.
The former pro-wrestler-turned-action hero certainly possess the stature and presence of a demi-God, with his imposingly muscled body. But even as the Greek mythological hero most repurposed by Hollywood, Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson brings surprising grace and gravitas to the titular character.
Dwayne Johnson brings both strength (figuratively) and gravitas to his character Hercules
Even in the rare emotional scenes, Johnson manages to bring a soulful quality to a character that could’ve easily been one-dimensionally brutish. He never overplays it, and proves that Hercules is a master tactician and not merely one who possesses superhuman strength.
Instead the overarching story is a journey of faith and self-discovery for this damaged, self-doubting hero, Hercules, and coming to terms with his own fate as “the son of Zeus”.
While battles scenes (there are three) are suitably action-packed and landscapes are grandiose, as is befitting of the subject matter, the film is balanced out by a well-paced story and touches of humour.
For instance, the comedy comes courtesy of Amphiaraus who has predicted his own death and even how it will happen, but keeps misjudging the time.
Coming it at just under 100 minutes, Brett Ratner’s film isn’t an ambitious attempt at a sweeping ‘Gladiator’-type epic and its explorations in pathos and catharsis. Neither is it a slick, over-stylised, Zack Snyder-type ‘300’ with slow-motion rain and artistically-splattered blood.
Instead it’s a straight up action- adventure, where there is good old fight choreography with steel against flesh and a well-loved character that we can all root for.
‘Hercules’ will put to rest any doubt that Dwayne Johnson is a bona fide action hero- though it remains to be seen if he can reign supreme as box office king. In any case, he has sealed his place as an action star, and a leading man.