For many of us, Hercules has forever been known as the all-singing and dancing, wise-cracking Lothario that graced our screens in the Oscar nominated, Disney animation back in 1997. Though now (and this is completely discounting The Legend of Hercules that came out earlier this year, for good reason) the mythical son of Zeus returns as a mean, lean, fighting machine.
Dwayne Johnson takes on the eponymous lead role, embodying a Hercules with a tainted reputation, now a mercenary left to fight for the highest bidder, rather than the those with the most honour. Along with his mismatched, yet incredibly skilled group of warriors, they accept Lord Cotys’ (John Hurt) plea to help defeat a barbaric warlord. Still feared and revered in equal measure – he endured the ancient twelve labours, after all – Hercules is set to train up an entire army for the battle ahead.
Though not quite as humorous an offering as you might have hoped, there is enjoyment to be derived from the self-deprecating nature of our titular protagonist, which is a quality his personality needs, given that the adulation for his brute strength grows somewhat tiresome in parts. There really are only so many times a large crowd of people can chant “Her-cu-les, Her-cu-les” over and over again before you want to take on the Nemean Lion yourself. Johnson turns in a fine performance – as one of few actors in world cinema that has the physical appearance needed to play this iconic role. However he does struggle to fully get his head around the deeper, more profound aspects of the narrative – like the mourning of his family – though what he lacks in intimate emotion, he more than makes up for in his infallibility, and we invest and believe in the character as a result. He has a charisma and authority too that allows for us to adhere to his distinctive notoriety.
He’s something of a conventional hero though, as Ratner struggles to find his own identity in this archetypal blockbuster. That being said, his faithfulness in regards to the genre is affectionately implemented, as a picture that, in a sense, plays out just as you hope it would, as there’s a certain comfortability and satisfaction that comes from watching a film of this ilk. You know for a fact that when a character controversially decides to leave, he’ll turn up again a few minutes down the line to save the day, with a witty one-liner to accompany his return. It’s cliched, yes, but sometimes – and honestly, only sometimes – that’s sort of how you want it to be.
The only time when you feel Ratner deviates away from convention, is with the use of mortal antagonists, to make for a far more menacing piece. It can be tedious and often requires too much of a suspension of disbelief when dealing with the supernatural. Yet when the true villains are human beings, it allows for us to attach ourselves in the same way we do in Game of Thrones, for instance, playing on inherent human emotion, in spite of the grandiose setting. That being said, it does take the place of Hercules fighting massive lions and three headed beasts, which are confined mostly to brief flashbacks, which is a disappointment.
It just seems that Ratner is enjoying himself more with his latest endeavour, as a film that while incredibly flawed in parts, is improved significantly by the cast of talented performers, taking a generic tale, and bringing it to life. To have the likes of Peter Mullan, Aksel Hennie and Ian McShane joining Johnson and Hurt can make all the difference, and help to create a picture that is easy to indulge in, and enjoy.