Hercules movie review: he fights the lion!

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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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Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Wed, Jul 23, 2014 5:51pm

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)

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Wed, Jul 23, 2014 6:34pm

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

Tonio Kruger
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 1:25am

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.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 2:20am

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.

David
David
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 6:51pm

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.

David_Conner
David_Conner
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 1:28pm

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.

Jurgan
reply to  Dr. Rocketscience
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 4:42am

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

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
reply to  Jurgan
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 5:40am

see: Besson, Luc

David_Conner
David_Conner
Wed, Jul 23, 2014 6:40pm

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
AA
reply to  David_Conner
Wed, Jul 23, 2014 9:25pm

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
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 1:27am

No Xena references? Oh, MaryAnn!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Tonio Kruger
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 10:45am

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!

Epanastatistupliktrologiu
Epanastatistupliktrologiu
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 5:32pm

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

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Epanastatistupliktrologiu
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 6:49pm

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
David
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 6:45pm

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

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  David
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 8:27pm

He doesn’t.

Bluejay
Bluejay
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Thu, Jul 24, 2014 9:16pm
David_Conner
David_Conner
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Jul 25, 2014 9:23pm

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

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  David_Conner
Sat, Jul 26, 2014 2:25pm

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.

MaryAnn Johanson
Fri, Jul 25, 2014 11:08am

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
Beowulf
Fri, Jul 25, 2014 2:47pm

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!

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Beowulf
Fri, Jul 25, 2014 4:46pm

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

MisterAntrobus
MisterAntrobus
Fri, Jul 25, 2014 3:17pm

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.”

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  MisterAntrobus
Fri, Jul 25, 2014 4:47pm

Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near that clever.

Beowulf
Beowulf
Mon, Jul 28, 2014 2:48pm

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
Timmi
Mon, Aug 22, 2016 12:26pm

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

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Timmi
Mon, Aug 22, 2016 1:34pm

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.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Danielm80
Mon, Aug 22, 2016 4:50pm

And it would have been completely relevant to do so.

Timmi
Timmi
reply to  Danielm80
Mon, Aug 22, 2016 10:13pm

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

Danielm80
Danielm80
reply to  Timmi
Mon, Aug 22, 2016 10:37pm

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.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Timmi
Wed, Aug 24, 2016 2:09pm

You say that like it’s a bad thing…

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Timmi
Mon, Aug 22, 2016 4:49pm

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

Timmi
Timmi
reply to  MaryAnn Johanson
Mon, Aug 22, 2016 10:12pm

you inserted a political statement where it has no place

bronxbee
bronxbee
reply to  Timmi
Tue, Aug 23, 2016 5:45pm

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.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Timmi
Wed, Aug 24, 2016 2:09pm

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