Review: Hercules


I’ve been anticipating Hercules‘ release for a while now. I love Dwayne Johnson, and want to see him in more leading roles that aren’t just kid films. I figure he’s got the charisma and talent just buried somewhere in there and needs the proper outlet.

So when the first trailer for Hercules looked okay, I was stoked. It looked dumb, but the right kind of dumb. The more I waited, the more I ignored all the red flags. It’s directed by Brett Ratner (who once screwed up the X-Men films so bad, it took them four more movies to recover), there were no screenings prior to its release (which usually signals a bad film), and each trailer after the first one showed off the same scenes (which means they’re the only good ones). But I desperately wanted Hercules to be entertaining. Johnson deserves this after all his years of work. 

Unfortunately, Hercules somehow makes “The Rock Yelling at Things While Shirtless” a bad idea. 

Director: Brett Ratner
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: July 25, 2014

Based on Steve Moore’s graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, Hercules takes place after the titular hero (Dwayne Johnson) has completed the mythological Twelve Labors (fighting a super lion, hydra, etc) and is now a mercenary for hire. The twist on all of this is, Hercules isn’t as quite the legends say, as he’s just a normal (admittedly strong) guy whose used the stories to scare his enemies. After taking a particularly high paying job, Hercules finds himself in the middle of a Thracian civil war where both sides of the fight are not quite what they seem. 

My biggest problem with Hercules is right there in the synopsis. In a neat move, Hercules skews the “myth” in mythology and takes an interesting turn with the story. Turning Hercules into a normal guy opens the possibilities, and when the film explores them (as Hercules becomes someone who uses logic and wit in a fight rather than brute force) it can lead to great moments. It’s just that the rest of the film ignores this aspect completely and devolves into a generic hero film. It’s sort of a slap in the face when the film directly states “Hey, all this cool stuff happened but we’re not going to show any of that!” and leads me to wonder if having this normal guy go through twelve trials would’ve been a better movie than what we got. 

But that’s not to say it’s all bad, it’s just not all good. The biggest disappointment has to be Johnson himself. Whether it was because of the role not giving him enough material to work with, or maybe I imagined his charisma, but something seemed to suck the life out of him. Even the biggest draw, his yelling things at the screen, seemed hollow. Not helped by all of the close ups (the film is about 45% close shots of faces) or the notably subpar CG, Johnson’s performance is easily the weakest. Perhaps in a way to cover this, Hercules is part of an ensemble rather than just be a starring role for Johnson. The rest of the ensemble seems to grasp what kind of film this is with Ian McShane (as the seer, Amphiarus) in fact stealing most of scenes with the same goofy swagger he always brings to his roles. 

But I’m in a conflict. As bad as the rest of Hercules is, there are truly some bright spots. As plastic as the fights look, the action is at least choreographed well. Taking inspiration from its comic book origin, characters have unique designs with fighting styles that look good in movement, and the brief bits of levity and awkward tone are almost excusable. It’s just weird seeing the film clash between identities. At times, Hercules is treating itself like some epic, and at others, Johnson says “F**king centaurs.” But the few bright spots this film has are dimmed within the rest of this bland mess. Although there are action scenes to break up the boredom, eventually they all blend together into an incoherent blob of sweat and muscles. Then Johnson yells “I am Hercules!” at the end, but it’s too late. Any goodwill the film could’ve built is long gone by that point. 

Instead of Hercules becoming a proper tentpole vehicle for Johnson’s talents, we’ve gotten another Scorpion King. In every film he’s in, Johnson is always the highlight. Whether it’s saving a film from mediocrity, or allowing its charms to shine, The Rock definitely is sharp. But Ratner dulls the actor to the point where he takes on the physical properties of his name sake.

Hercules is dumb, dull, slow, heavy handed, and has very little redeeming quality. So I guess the only way to cap off this review, and to properly express my feelings, is to honor the film by yelling at you.