Following the critical and commercial misfire that was Renny Harlin’s The Legend of Hercules earlier this year, Hollywood regular Brett Ratner takes a stab at the classic swords-and-sandals myth of the son of Zeus, in his comic-based and simply-titled Hercules. Is it better? Most definitely, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. Loosely based on Steve Moore’s classic graphic novel The Thracian Wars, Hercules finds a more angsty incarnation of the Greek demigod (now portrayed Dwayne Johnson) leading a team of multi-talented mercenaries on a hunt for a tyrannical war-lord.
In all honesty, that plot summary may be a little overstated. The reality of Hercules is that anything even remotely resembling a story is mostly lost in a violent haze of over-stylised fight sequences and dramatic arguments that lead to precisely nowhere. Dotted throughout the film are a fair-few poorly woven flashbacks supposedly alluding to Hercules’ newly “dark past” but ultimately, this is a film about one thing and one thing only: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson smashing things and looking cool. This would be fine of course, if it wasn’t for the fact that Ratner tries far too hard to flip things in the other direction.
Despite being the film’s titular character and the very being the entire movie is based around, Hercules’ wit and strength is talked about far more than it is actually displayed. In fact, so long is spent on random individuals chanting his name and spreading his legend that when it actually comes down to Hercules finally doing his thing and saving Thrace, it all seems a little underwhelming. The great half-god who braved the twelve labours spends more time shouting approval and ordering his men than he does anything else, and so a great deal of the film’s key action moments are stolen by his compatriots. Balance seems fair when teams are involved, but in a movie called Hercules, you really expect the man himself to step a little bit further forward than everyone else.
The most frustrating part of this mis-step from Ratner is that Dwayne Johnson is actually the film’s biggest triumph. It’s clear that the former-wrestler devoted a great deal of time and energy into truly becoming Hercules (rumour has it one scene caused so much muscle strain, Johnson passed-out on four separate occasions) but much of this boils down to just three key sequences, all of which stand at the front and centre of the film’s marketing campaign.
However, thankfully for Ratner, the supporting cast can just about hold up their end of the film. A perky Rufus Sewell is a surprising treat, as is a comic Ian McShane, despite being relegated to just a single joke for the entire running time. Relative newcomer Rebecca Ferguson is also a hidden delight, but it’s actually the film’s more noted talent that end up letting the side down. The likes of John Hurt and Peter Mullan phone in trimmed and lazy performances and an unrecognisable Joseph Fiennes appears almost equally as wooden as the furniture he sits on. Most painfully of all, aside from the aforementioned Sewell and McShane, no one seems to really be having any fun.
Hercules is by no means a good film but for the most part, it provides plenty of brainless entertainment, even if this is mostly at the titular hero’s expense. If the thought of Dwayne Johnson throwing a horse and sweating profusely really hits home for you, then this might well be the summer blockbuster to beat. Otherwise, Ratner’s tent-pole dreams for the Greek demigod land mostly in the gutter.
Hercules (2014), directed by Brett Ratner, is released in UK cinemas by Paramount Pictures, Certificate 12A. Watch the trailer below: