On the Silver Screen – Hercules
Time for another version of Hercules, this time with Dwayne Johnson fulfilling the lead role and Brett Ratner handling directorial duties. This film is not to be confused with the Renny Harlin directed The Legend of Hercules starring Kellan Lutz from earlier this year as they are two entirely different entities.
The story takes place sometime after Hercules has endured the legendary 12 labours and now lives his life as something of a mercenary, he leads a team who take jobs that involve using violent means to solve a problem. His professional ethics are called into question when it looks like he has accepted a job that puts him in a dubious moral position.
In terms of plot and structure, there’s really nothing new here. Hercules and his team train people how to fight before fighting followed by the realisation that something more is going on which brings us to the high stakes action finale. The execution of this story isn’t terrible and moves along at a decent clip so that the film never really outstays its welcome. Nothing overly profound or unexpected ever happens but that’s kind of alright I’d say since the simple story is done quite well even if it never ascends too far above average.
It did take an angle I wasn’t expecting, before seeing the film I wondered why his 12 labours wouldn’t specifically be depicted but the reasoning became clear fairly early on. Hercules deeds inclusive of his 12 labours are presented as an exaggerated legend that has been spread around in order to intimidate potential enemies and make any conflicts a little easier. The film never explicitly states whether Hercules is the son of Zeus or just some muscle bound mercenary who has better than average combat and strategic capabilities. Hints are dropped towards his Olympian origins -some that might seem definitive- but it’s never resolved one way or another. I wasn’t expecting this angle and I found it pretty interesting, this would obviously have come from the source material comic book that I haven’t read and with a little more work I think it could have been the focal point of the story instead of a seemingly incidental afterthought as depicted. Props to writers Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos for having a go anyway, I wonder if sequels are planned to cover this in more detail.
Dwayne Johnson in the lead is very good, he’s a charming and charismatic leading man who brings more than a little of his public personality to the role, echoing films starring the likes of Stallone or Schwarzenegger in the 80s where people were encouraged to watch because of the actor branding placed upon it. In any film I’ve seen Johnson star I find him likeable and want to root for him; this film is no exception. He imbues Hercules with so much humanity that it’s easy to follow him through the plot. He’s also immensely believable in film’s action set pieces of which there are a few, some of which are fairly impressively put together if not groundbreaking.
His supporting cast are a mixed bag, John Hurt is playing John Hurt in a performance that seems so familiar I’m convinced this was a paycheck role for him. Ian McShane and Peter Mullan both give serviceable performances as their characters but nobody outside of Johnson is given very much to work with in terms of screen time or character arc, most of the characters seem to exist just to give Hercules someone to talk to or beat up.
Overall, a reasonably diverting swords and sandles action film that doesn’t run long enough to overstay its welcome. A likeable leading man and some impressive action set pieces help make this an entertaining distraction from life for a little while. It never ascends to greatness but never really offends either.