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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Hercules movie review: he fights the lion!

Hercules yellow light

Grading on the Ratner Curve, this is a positive triumph. The cheesy clichés are at least passingly entertaining. You could do worse.
I’m “biast” (pro): love Dwayne Johnson

I’m “biast” (con): hate Brett Ratner

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

You think you know the truth about him? You know nothing!” This from the very shouty narrator who opens Hercules for us, presumably in case you saw the hilariously awful The Legend of Hercules earlier this year and were suckered into believing that Kellan Lutz is a demigod. What’s sort of funny and sort of the best thing about this second attempt in a few months to pass off a superhero of the ancient world as one for the 21st century is that the shouty narrator turns out to be Herc’s publicist, and that he is informing us that it’s probably best not to believe the stories you hear about the feats of demigods, because they are likely self-serving bullshit. This happens in the course of the publicist “informing” some bad guys about to die at Herc’s hands that they cannot hope to defeat the “son of Zeus” because he is all-mighty, etcetera and so on, blah blah self-serving legend-building bullshit.

See, cuz here, Hercules (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: Fast & Furious 6, Pain and Gain) is nothing but a completely mortal, totally human fourth-century BC mercenary with really great PR. He travels around the ancient world with his merry band of brothers- and one badass Amazonian sister-in-arms, played variously by Ian McShane (Cuban Fury, Jack the Giant Slayer), Rufus Sewell (The Sea, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), Aksel Hennie (Headhunters), and Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters). Also with them is Herc’s nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, 10,000 B.C.), who is really good at telling engaging stories about the supposed exploits of the son of the king of the gods who has killed unkillable monster-creatures, among his other Important Labors. When Hercules borders a bit on the Monty Python — “he fights the lion!” — that’s actually kind of intentionally ridiculous in the same way that Monty Python was.

The pity of Hercules is that it simply isn’t Monty Python enough. A scenery-chewing turn by Joseph Fiennes (Running with Scissors, The Great Raid) as a fey king almost gets there. And there’s one bit in which I’m almost positive those horses are wearing wigs. But in trying to walk a fine line between clever and stupid, director Brett Ratner (Movie 43, Rush Hour 3) lets everything get more earnest than it should be, and sometimes more let’s-throw-in-another-long-tedious-battle-scene than it should be. (Probably screenwriters Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos [Battle for Terra] deserve some blame for this too.) Nobody wants to watch The Rock dither over whether his mercenary talents are being put to use for a morally just cause — dude, you’re a mercenary — which is what happens when the king of one part of Thrace (John Hurt [Snowpiercer, Only Lovers Left Alive], who needs to be more Monty Python here) hires Herc and his friends to help him win a war against some other part of Thrace. But that’s what we get too much of here, and not enough of The Rock being funny and bashing heads… but then, there’s just enough of that for us to realize what we’re missing, too.

Grading on the Ratner Curve, however, this is a positive triumph. It’s no The Scorpion King — the last time The Rock played an ancient mercenary — but you’d be forgiven for not even realizing this is a Ratner flick. The action is coherent, for one big thing. (Ratner’s last film, Tower Heist, was really pretty good, so I suspect he’s trying to wean himself off whatever joy comes from being the low-rent Michael Bay.) The cheesy clichés are at least still passingly entertaining, there’s a few good bits in the 3D that actually made me flinch instinctively, and someone gets to shout, “Unleash the wolves!” You could do worse.

You could do better, though, too. I mean, we got a tale about a war built on lies and illusion and marketing — as Herc’s war here is — in that documentary about Donald Rumsfeld, and the villain in that one was way scarier.


If you saw that quote in some British media, attributed to me, calling this film “a triumph,” please read this.


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Hercules (2014)
US/Can release: Jul 25 2014
UK/Ire release: Jul 25 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated NMMP (needs more Monty Python)
MPAA: rated PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, bloody images, moderate sex references, strong language)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    So, next weekend in the US is gonna be the battle of “Hmmm, I’m not sure” between this and “Lucy”*.

    * Pro: Scarlett Johanson[‘s clone]; Morgan Freeman; Luc Besson (when he hits)

    Con: “Humans use only 10% of their brains”, Luc Besson (when he misses)

  • Lucy doesn’t open here till next month, so I won’t see it for a while yet.

  • David_Conner

    Wow, I didn’t get the slightest clue from the ads that there would be anything fun in this movie. The ads make it look like yet another Angry Video Game Protagonist Scowling At Overblown Impossible CGI For Two Hours Movie.

    Sounds like it’s still, in part, a AVGPSAOICFTHM, but fun enough to catch on cable or something.

    I’d LOVE to see “Monty Python’s Dwayne Johnson and the Thirteenth Labour of Hercules,” though!

  • AA

    That does sound freaking hilarious. I’d watch this one just for DJ — he made The Scorpion King watchable, even if you had to see the deleted scenes for the movie to make any sense.

  • Tonio Kruger

    SPOILERS for Lucy based on the trailer…………..:

    One would think that the fact that Scarlett Johansson’s character gets kicked in the stomach and ends up turning into Mystique because of it figures into that con equation somewhere. Unless, of course, you’re arguing that it’s a good thing that her character gets kicked in the stomach — which I doubt.

  • Tonio Kruger

    No Xena references? Oh, MaryAnn!

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    Well, I’m neither for nor against Scarlett Johanson (or any action movie protagonist) getting kicked in the stomach.

    My concern that there may be offensive depictions of sexualized violence against women is tied into the “con” point about Luc Besson. (That being said, I don’t see “kicked in the stomach” as inherently sexualized, unless you’re talking about a visibly pregnant woman.)

    As for the stomach kick giving her superpowers, well, at least one of the trailers indicates that the bad guys make Lucy mule a wonderdrug by surgically implanting a ziplock baggie of the stuff in her abdomen. Said baggie is ruptured by the aforementioned kick, causing the wonderdrug to disperse into her system. As setups go, that’s ok, no real problems. And my only issue with the drug is the “10%” thing I already mentioned.

  • Jurgan

    The flagrant anti-Asian racism isn’t a con? Killing a guy in China for not speaking English?

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    see: Besson, Luc

  • I was working on a reference to Bruce Campbell’s Autolycus (Rufus Sewell plays a character of the same name here), but I couldn’t make it work. Sorry!

  • David_Conner

    What annoys me is that her powers apparently go from the aforementioned impressive-but-physically-limited “Mystique” level to Neo-in-the-Matrix/Beyonder level ability to straight up alter reality.

  • Epanastatistupliktrologiu

    i believe i can understand a decent amount of english but strangly i cannot unterstand this critic too much references.

  • David

    Unless Kevin Sorbo makes a cameo, I’m not interested.

  • Danielm80

    Which references bothered you? There was a mention of Monty Python, a well-known British comedy troupe. The only other references I spotted were a discussion of other films by the same director, Brett Ratner, and a comment about The Unknown Known, which is a documentary about Donald Rumsfeld. MaryAnn included web links in her review, so that you can easily find information about those topics.

  • David

    I am also really sick of hearing that statistic. Almost as much as I hate seeing characters tipping their heads back when they get nosebleeds or losing consciousness for lengthy periods of time after being hit over the head yet suffer no long term damage.

  • He doesn’t.

  • Bluejay
  • The lion is in the contract!

    For anyone who doesn’t get the lion references in my review, check out this episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The relevant bit starts at 11:43, but the whole episode is hilarious, of course:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=boXfq4S-fFg

  • Beowulf

    That’s a fallacy: we DO use most of our brain most of the time (there are exceptions–Michael Bay, etc.)

    But I can see the advertising blurb now… “You could do worse.” — MaryAnn Johanson, The Flick Filosopher. Ha!

  • MisterAntrobus

    It seems that the filmmakers have been studying multiple comedy masters. The conceit of this sounds like Mel Brooks’ “2000 Year Old Man” talking about Robin Hood: “He stole from everybody and kept everything. He just had a great press agent.”

  • As long as I actually said or wrote it, anyone is free to quote me!

  • Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that clever.

  • David_Conner

    He’s apparently upset about it too, in a way that seems unlikely to do him any good:

    http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/kevin-sorbo-thinks-hercules-movie-stupid/story?id=24648368

  • Oh, no no no. It’s kind of embarrassing for him that he actually requested a cameo, and then to be turned down? He would be better off not saying anything at all about a cameo now, and just being gracious about the new film. Jeez.

  • Beowulf

    It WAS fun. But, nah, the blondie horses are wearing their own manes–Buzzfeed or someone had a whole post devoted to people who grow out their horses’ manes for whatever reason people do weird things.

  • Timmi

    seemed like a good review until you ruined it with a liberal paragraph at the end about a totally unrelated matter…

  • Danielm80

    If she had written the review this year, I would have expected a reference to Donald Trump after this passage:

    See, cuz here, Hercules…is nothing but a completely mortal, totally human fourth-century BC mercenary with really great PR.

  • Aww, did I hurt your brain pointing out how even a goofy action movie doesn’t exist in a vacuum?

  • And it would have been completely relevant to do so.

  • Timmi

    you inserted a political statement where it has no place

  • Timmi

    considering her reply to me, it’s easy to see her political viewpoint

  • Danielm80

    I’m sure MaryAnn will be pleased that she made her viewpoint clear. That way, readers like you will know quickly if they’re likely to agree with her opinions or if they should find a reviewer who thinks more like they do. A hint: If you think reviews are supposed to be “objective,” this site really isn’t for you.

  • bronxbee

    why do you think it has no place there? this is a self-contained movie criticism site. the reviewer has the right to insert whatever she damn well pleases.

  • Of course it has a place. How could you possibly imagine that a movie about war was no place for politics?

  • You say that like it’s a bad thing…

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