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.

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