Main cast: Dwayne Johnson (Hercules), Ian McShane (Amphiaraus), Rufus Sewell (Autolycus), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (Atalanta), Aksel Hennie (Tydeus), Reece Ritchie (Iolaus), Rebecca Ferguson (Ergenia), Peter Mullan (General Sitacles), Tobias Santelmann (Rheseus), John Hurt (King Cotys of Thrace), and Joseph Fiennes (King Eurystheus of Athens)
Director: Brett Ratner
Unless you are familiar with the source material – this movie is loosely based on the late Steve Moore’s comic book Hercules: The Thracian Wars – you should be aware that the trailer of Hercules lies a little. It suggested that this movie presents the more traditional and familiar tale of Hercules doing the Twelve Labors, but that’s not the case here.
In this movie, Hercules is a mercenary who just happens to have great strength. He and his childhood friend Autolycus did well under the service of King Eurustheus of Athens, until the King became jealous of Hercules’s fame among his people and had the man’s family murdered. Hercules was framed for the murder. He fled Athens with Autolycus, his cousin the storyteller Iolaus, as well as the rest of his group: the sage Amphiaraus, an Amazonian archer Atalanta, and Tydeus whose PTSD rendered him incapable of speaking to anyone. Iolaus is the one who spread tales of Hercules being the son of Zeus who was cursed by Hera to do the Twelve Labors – this helps enhance Hercules’s reputation, and in the process makes people with money more eager to hire them for their services. The movie is quite ambiguous about the true nature of Hercules himself, but for the most part, this is a more down to earth portrayal of the man.
In this movie, the gang is hired by King Cotys of Thrace to take down the army of Rheseus, who seems bent of expanding his dominion into Thrace by leading an army of centaurs and killing all in his way. Our gang have to train what seems like a bunch of farmers into a semblance of a decent army in a short time, but our heroes are naturally up to the task. But things are never what they seem, however…
Hercules is not going to break any new grounds – everything about it is familiar. Even the “twists” can be seen coming from a while away, because the whole story seems to be pasted together from bits and pieces from many action-packed “gang of manly heroes (and the token action chick)” movies of this type before. That’s not entirely a bad thing here, though, as the whole movie is entertaining enough to make up for the fact that its script has a stale stench to it.
Dwayne Johnson tears across the screen, often in nothing more than a loincloth, baring his physique and furrowing his eyebrows like he’s the second coming of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Conan the Barbarian. Of course, he’s more eloquent than Mr Schwarzenegger can ever hope to be. The other cast members back him up pretty well, and it’s nice to see a genuine action chick like Atalanta doing her thing without needing to be rescued or being the love interest of the hero. The only embarrassment here is Joseph Fiennes’s ridiculous mincing and effeminate portrayal of his villainous character – it is as if the movie is afraid that people may go, “Greek people – aren’t they all gay? Let’s all chant for Hercules to have hot manly sex with Autolycus!” and thus ramps up the whole “See? Feminine guys that act so gay are all evil and should be killed!” nonsense to compensate for any perceived less-than-manly appeal of the main characters.
This one won’t be brain food for enlightened movie-goers by any means, but I think it’s a perfectly fine popcorn flick with entertaining and likable main characters (none of whom do anything stupid for a change). I also like how the movie lets Hercules share the spotlight without dominating the other members of his gang or overwhelming the whole film with his angst. Hercules manages to hit all the high notes while being proudly average and generic, and I can’t help thinking that is quite a feat in itself.