Mark Reviews Movies

Hercules (2014)

HERCULES (2014)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Brett Ratner

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

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity)

Running Time: 1:38

Release Date: 7/25/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 25, 2014

The clever conceit of Hercules is that the eponymous demigod of ancient myth was a real person, along with all that the phrase "real person" entails. The movie opens with a narration promising to tell us what we don't know about Hercules. We get the highlights of what we do know. He was the illegitimate son of Zeus and a human woman. Zeus' wife Hera tried to kill him as a young child with snakes, but the little tyke killed the serpents in his crib. He performed 12 Labors to prove himself, and he killed his family in an unconscious fit (The movie switches the chronology of these events, making the Labors an attempt to appease Hera instead of an act of contrition to the gods for killing his wife and children). It is all very brave and heroic, and the movie argues that the whole of the legend is a sham.

The Hercules here is still a very, very strong man—even supernaturally so. At one point, he stomps on a cart, and the force raises it into the air. He kicks it with one, sandaled foot, and the cart speeds off toward a group of bad guys, impaling one on some convenient spikes. At another point, he grabs a horse in mid-gallop by the belly, lifts the steed into the air, and sends it and its rider toppling to the ground.

Well, maybe his acts here display that he isn't quite as "real" as the movie advertises, but he doesn't wrestle a fire-breathing bull or take over holding up the entirety of the globe for Atlas while the god runs off to do some errands. It's a matter of proportion. Compared to the version that bent the courses of a couple of rivers to bathe a multitude of cows, this Hercules is a relative weakling. If you stab him with a sword, he will definitely bleed. He'll still be able to fight hordes of enemies in battle and will only need minor medical attention in the aftermath, but he's bleeding. That counts as perfectly normal, right?

Maybe the movie's concept of a "real" Hercules is just as much baloney as the legends that the masses believe about him. That might be why the movie never really finds a foothold, especially in those battle sequences. We're watching a mortal, but there is never a sense that he is in any mortal danger. He's not invulnerable, but he sure as hell seems invincible. He's also played by Dwayne Johnson, a mountain of a man with a confident swagger and muscles that seem stronger than the armor he wears, so that doesn't help matters, either.

he story involves Hercules' adventures in Thrace, where he and his band of fellow mercenaries have been hired by Lord Cotys (John Hurt) to stop a conquering army. That invading force is led by Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), a warrior that many believe is a sorcerer in control of an army of centaurs and demons. Hercules and his crew of misfits know the rumors are exaggerated.

After all, they know how Hercules killed a "hydra" that turned out to be men in serpent masks and wears the supposedly impenetrable skin of what was a very ordinary lion. The funniest moment in the movie has Hercules' nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), the group's storyteller (a public-relations representative in modern parlance), boasting the Hercules brand of armor and armaments to the makeshift Thracian army. The chest plate, he brags, is made from the indestructible hide of the Erymanthian Boar. "If it's indestructible," one of the soldiers asks, "how did he cut it off the boar?"

Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos' screenplay (based on the comic book series by Steve Moore) has a sense of humor about itself, although only in the aforementioned scene does it achieve the logical, comic end of the material. The movie works best in the moments of Hercules and his comrades sitting around and enjoying the glory of a lie.

These roles are filled well, too. Rufus Sewell plays Autolycus, Hercules' oldest friend, who knew him when he was a beggar in the street, an accomplished soldier, and the heroic proxy of King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes). Ingrid Bolsø Berdal plays Atalanta, an Amazonian warrior who joined Hercules during one of his Labors and wears distractingly flattering armor—a miniskirt and plated crop top—of dubious effectiveness. Aksel Hennie's crazy eyes tell us of a man who was literally born in battle and has never recovered, and Ian McShane's Amphiaraus is a grumpy seer who is just waiting for the vision of his own death to appear in his communications with the gods.

When these characters get into battle, though, they are simply grunting and growling tools of carnage in director Brett Ratner's repetitive action sequences. Whatever minimal—but still appreciated—personality they have outside of combat disappears, and the movie's does, too. This is especially true its star. There's a mischievous smirk just under the surface of Johnson's performance and, for that matter, the movie itself. We spend most of Hercules vainly waiting for that playfulness to erupt.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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