Hercules

Review by Adam Lee Davies @exrenthell

Directed by

Brett Ratner

Starring

Dwayne Johnson Ian McShane John Hurt

Anticipation.

The Rat and The Rock. What could go wrong?

Enjoyment.

Flat, muddled, low on spectacle and utterly devoid of charm.

In Retrospect.

File with Immortals, 47 Ronin, Wrath of the Titans...

Director Brett Ratner’s take on Zeus’ most ripped offspring is a bumbling, dizzy-headed chore.

Hercules is not a bad film. Hercules is a dire film. Bad films can be fun. Brett Ratner’s previous outing, Tower Heist, was bad fun. It had a fruity cast, a timely (by Hollywood’s standards) plot, and a more than a few giggles – intended or otherwise – along the way. Hercules is horrid.

It employs a cast of mid-range genre go-to water-carriers (John Hurt, Ian McShane, the surprisingly excellent Rufus Sewell) to stretch a generic-yet-confusing Greek myth across the dispiriting, nonsensical, over-familiar ruins of a store-bought plot littered with signposted double-crosses and muddy motivations. And yet, despite all the chicanery and hand-wringing, the whole thing wouldn’t merit more than a couple of scenes in Game of Thrones. Peter Jackson would have it all wrapped up before breakfast.

Based on a graphic novel by Steve Moore (unrelated longtime cohort of Alan Moore), Hercules is set after the twelve trials of legend, with the fabled warrior now a sword for hire. Herc (Dwayne Johnson) and his band of roguish misfits – a seer, a joker, a berserker, an Amazon sharpshooter, a laconic right-hand man – take up an offer by the king of Thrace (John Hurt) to train his people into an army strong enough to repel an invading horde of centaur warriors.

That we were able to convey this basic set-up is no thanks to the incoherent, inelegant dialogue (choice line – “He was born the son of Zeus – the Zeus!”), laboured flashbacks and the lack of establishing shots. Several key scenes feel as if they’re missing, either chopped out of the film to keep pacing brisk or ripped out of the script to keep the budget down. Consequently it’s not until well into the second act that the creeping yet thundering realisation dawns that this is the film. All that stilted joshing and dusty meandering wasn’t just a scene-setting preamble. That was the film.

Even this paucity of spectacle could conceivably be turned to the film’s advantage. That there are no gods or fantasy monsters in Hercules is its one intriguing aspect. Our hero’s mythic birth and superhuman deeds are perhaps no more than a marketing campaign spun by his wry public relations mouthpiece (Sewell). Had it been expanded on or made more central to the plot, this conceit could have done much to inject the film with some much needed imagination and humour, but that idea would require a director of more skill and daring to truly fly. Ratner instead plays this angle down to a degree – almost apologetically so – that one could be forgiven for not picking up on it at all.

Normally such good value, Johnson (who is starting to look uncannily like Nicolas Cage) has dialed back his usual line in hulking self-deprecation just when he needs it most. This is surely the role he was born to play, but instead of embracing the revisionist nature of the film and delving into the gulf that separates man from myth, he plays it mostly straight. He certainly doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself up there, and by the closing stretch looks as pleased as everyone else to just get this one over the finishing line.

Ratner won’t be going away any time soon (IMDb: ‘He attended NYU film school, currently lives in a $3.6m house in Beverly Hills’), but the breezy, hyperkinetic fun of the Rush Hour movies already seems a long distant memory. It all should’ve worked out so well, but it went so very bad. With Hercules, he hammers yet another nail into his golden coffin. Next up? Beverly Hills Cop 4. Gonna need more nails.

Published 24 Jul 2014

Anticipation.

The Rat and The Rock. What could go wrong?

Enjoyment.

Flat, muddled, low on spectacle and utterly devoid of charm.

In Retrospect.

File with Immortals, 47 Ronin, Wrath of the Titans...

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