Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Rufus Sewell, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes and Peter Mullan
Running Time: 98 minutes
Release date: July 25th
Hercules showcases the best and worst of its director Brett Ratner. His films are deservedly criticised for lacking smarts or panache. Ratner is a journeyman whose CV has nearly as many sequels as original films. However, his films are also light, unpretentious and zippy. And in this world of bloated, overlong blockbusters that’s an important quality. Hercules is over an hour shorter than the recent Transformers for instance, and within the first fifteen minutes the hero has beheaded a hydra, killed snakes and punched out a lion. That’s efficient storytelling.
Hercules (Johnson) is a mighty warrior, allegedly the son of the god Zeus and a mortal woman. When we meet the man, he’s a mercenary working with a band of men (and one woman) to fight for the highest bidder. His latest job is to help a king (John Hurt) fend off a bullying tyrant. Think of it like The Magnificent Seven or The Seven Samurai, with swords and sandals (or The Three Amigos if you’re feeling less generous).
While Hercules is reasonably fun, I really wish it was bloodier, pulpier and more stylish. What a great project this would have been for a director like James Cameron, Paul Verhoeven, JJ Abrams, Sam Raimi, Guillermo del Toro or Mel Gibson. While Hercules has spectacle and a light tone, it lacks personality and voice compared to other corners of the genre: 300 was flamboyant; Conan was operatic pulp; Lord of the Rings was epic and hopeful; Clash of the Titans had an edge; and Game of Thrones has nuance and depth.
This Hercules is similarly anachronistic to the Kevin Sorbo/Sam Raimi 90s TV series; there are stoner jokes, a playful tone and the odd modern reference. This is sometimes enjoyable, but also highlights how little identity the film has of its own.
It’s got a great cast though: The Rock is just fabulous – he’s simultaneously imposing, likeable and charming and was born to play Hercules. The classy supporting actors both embrace and elevate the cheesy material, and Joseph Fiennes in particular seems to be having a grand time. The less said about Hercules’ weakling nephew, however, the better.
Overall it’s a passable distraction. Like most Brett Ratner films it’s workmanlike, but lean, nimble and reasonably entertaining. Far from a disaster, so, but with this material, budget and supporting cast Hercules should have been The Rock’s Conan the Barbarian.