How many movies about Hercules does it take for us to see the character truly brought to life in a good story? Apparently more than two.
In January of this year, “The Legend of Hercules” brought us the hero in the form of “Twilight” actor Kellan Lutz. Strangely enough the film was received with thunderous boos as it earned a Rotten Tomatoes score of 3% (yes, out of 100).
The second, and hopefully last of 2014, film about the super-powered demigod is the self-titled “Hercules” starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. With Brett Ratner at the helm, this outing seemed eager to entertain while never taking itself too seriously.
After enduring the trials that make him a legendary figure, Hercules becomes the leader of a small group of mercenaries who rid kingdoms of unwanted visitors or sway a conflict in favor of the highest bidder. Among his crew are Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), Autolycus (Rufus Sewell) and others.
When Lord Cotys (John Hurt) hires the warriors to train his army and rid the land of an evil warlord, the group sees it as a chance for one big payday before heading off into retirement. As this scenario naturally goes in Hollywood, the plan doesn’t go as smoothly as they hoped.
Playing the title hero with the absurd charm of someone in a chewing gum commercial, Dwayne Johnson is clearly trying to have fun with a role that is tailor made for him. For a character known for his athleticism and strength, the majority of Johnson’s action scenes are simply him trying to push an object over or nonchalantly swatting at bad guys like one might wave off a fly at a 4th of July picnic. I feel pretty confident in saying that 71-year-old Ian McShane has more interesting stunt choreography in the film.
Though Johnson tries to make him endearing, Hercules is one of the most boring characters in a film filled with boring characters. The only three characters worth noting are Amphiaraus, Autolycus and Tydeus (Aksel Hennie). Autolycus is a mercenary of the more cold-blooded variety and Sewell gives him the funny, cynical personality that many of his characters have shared. This is my first exposure to Aksel Hennie, but the Norwegian actor made a character that has almost no audible dialogue interesting solely through body language.
The film is clearly intended for an audience in the 12-18 age range as it glosses over the majority of its violence and waters down any heavy themes that would have made it interesting. One of the writers has actually made a living writing for direct-to-video sequels for the majority of the animated Disney franchises (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
The script for “Hercules” is also a mess as it changes character motivations on a dime, has several unanswered holes in the story, and includes too many convenient coincidences to hold water.
Brett Ratner and company tried to deliver a fun blockbuster loosely based on the mythology of Hercules, however, what we have instead is a pretty shoddy film that is only mildly entertaining. It may be good enough to keep your attention for 98 minutes, but anyone seeking a quality film to hold them over until “Guardians of the Galaxy” will probably wish they had just held onto their money.