Film review: Hercules

Dwayne Johnson is Hercules in the umpteenth film based on the mythical Greek demi-god.

Dwayne Johnson is Hercules in the umpteenth film based on the mythical Greek demi-god.

Hercules

(M) 2.5 out of 5

Director: Brett Ratner.

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Rebecca Ferguson, Reece Ritchie, Aksel Hennie, Joseph Fiennes.

ASIDE from being a cracking Greek myth, Hercules has helped kickstart Arnold Schwarznegger's career, was a lynchpin of Italian cinema in the '50s and '60s, and even briefly made Kevin Sorbo a household name.

But do we really need another Hercules movie?

The short answer is 'no', even if Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson looks like he was born (or possibly chiselled from the side of mountain) to play the Greek demi-god.

While there's an intriguing new spin on the tale - that Hercules is more man than myth and part of a band of mercenaries who work for the highest bidder - the execution of this re-invention is lacking and will leave many disappointed.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a Hercules film in which an oiled-up Johnson punches a rabid wolf in the face, then step right up, you strange, strange person.

Much of the familiar Hercules tale is back story this time around, which is refreshing. His 12 trials are slightly exaggerated past accomplishments, retold with regularity by his nephew Iolaus as Hercules and his band of merry mercenaries - the wonky oracle Amphiaraus (McShane), dagger-throwing sidekick Autolycus (Sewell), mute berserker Tydeus (Hennie), and Amazonian archer Atalanta (Berdal) - travel the land seeking gold and adventure.

Their exploits catch the ears of Thracian princess Ergenia (Ferguson), who hires the mercenaries to train the Thracian army and help defeat an evil sorcerer.

So far, so formulaic, but to its credit the film takes a detour for its final third that's intriguing enough to help you overlook some of the other nonsense that goes on, such as some very awkward pacing, weird flashbacks/hallucinations, terrible dialogue, and a performance from Johnson that's far from impressive.

This last point is a shame. As one of Hollywood's most likeable lugs, he's been a welcome presence even in bad films - Southland Tales, Race To Witch Mountain, and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island for example.

But here his weaknesses are laid as bare as his impossibly inflated pecs in the film's finale. Hercules' supposedly stirring speeches fall flat (this is also a script problem) and he lacks the acting range to effectively portray the many facets of this particular incarnation of the demi-god, especially the bits revolving around his tortured past and the metaphorical demons lurking in his metaphorical closet.

In the action stakes though, Johnson nails it, and so does director Ratner. The battles are reasonably cool, particularly an opening stoush between the unskilled Thracian army and a horde of tattooed dudes who look like they should all be in metal bands.

But in the grand scheme of things, that battle makes no sense at all and this is where the film falls down. On a dumb action level, sure it's okay, but the script can't live up to the potential of the ideas, especially those surrounding the Hercules myth-building and who he really is, and ends up being confounding and somewhat frustrating. 

Hurt adds gravitas as he always does, Sewell and McShane get all the best lines and lighten the mood, and relative newcomer Ferguson is one to watch, while the whole 'Hercules and his merry men (and woman)' thing is fun and enjoyable.

It has its strengths and weaknesses but this isn't quite the legendary film this legendary figure deserves.

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