Movie Review: Hercules

Here’s something I certainly didn’t think I’d be watching in cinemas this year.

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Starring:
Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt
Director:
Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand, Tower Heist)
Rating: M
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Brett Ratner. The name just fills me with such icky feelings. The man who dragged the X-Men movie franchise down in my adolescence hasn’t made very many good films since Rush Hour 2 some 13 years ago, so I wasn’t exactly brimming with confidence going to see his latest film, Hercules. Yet a very cleverly cut second trailer (the first one was awful), which revealed the importance of the film’s quite impressive supporting cast and the lighthearted tone of their involvement without spoiling the actual movie, turned me around. Hercules is actually a decent slice of dumb fun, despite its narrative unevenness.

It’s fair to say there have been quite a few attempts at telling the story of the most famous strongman in the Greek pantheon (there’s already been another Hercules movie released by Hollywood this year alone) and so Ratner and pals take a bit of a different angle of approach to the tale. This version of Hercules, played in earnest and likeable style by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, has already completed his legendary twelve labours and is now a mercenary for hire, travelling the world with a band of adeptly specialised allies and accepting jobs until he has amassed enough gold to retire in simplicity away from the baggage of his tragic past. Where things go from there is intriguing, as background elements unfold slowly and the power of a legend is explored, in more ways than one.

I have to highlight that supporting cast before I go any further. The absolute number one reason why Hercules is so watchable is the personnel involved. I’ve always been a big fan of Rufus Sewell and he relishes the role of Hercules’ avaricious right-hand man Autolycus, gladly spitting sardonic comments left and right with a glint in his eye. Ian McShane is consistently entertaining as the seer Amphiaraus, a man struggling to make sense of prophetic signs from the gods who believes his own death is right around nearly every corner. Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal brings most of the group’s impressive action clout as renowned archer Atalanta while Aksel Hennie‘s deranged mute Tydeus proves an unexpectedly endearing presence. The likes of Joseph Fiennes and John Hurt up the prestige level of the cast with their turns as Greek royals. The relatively run-of-the-mill fight sequences of Hercules, while occasionally impressive in their own right, are largely carried by the infectious attitude of the cast.

And so it is a terrible shame that Hercules lets itself down so jarringly by its odd pacing decisions. You could be forgiven for thinking that the third act was written by an entirely different person, such is the abruptness with which the plot of the film changes direction and introduces new, entirely un-earned elements into proceedings. The mood whiplash is vicious and the sudden bloated melodrama means you stop laughing with the characters of Hercules and start laughing at them. What’s more, the admirable slow reveal style that most of the film has used up to that point is replaced with just about every cliche in the book. Every beat of the final six or seven scenes is entirely predictable, which comes as a real shock and a real shame. Hercules could have been a stronger recommendation from me had the early momentum continued through to the end. As it stands, it’s better than I thought it would be, and nothing more.

Do pay attention to the first part of the credits though. It’s cool in a plot-relevant way.

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THE VERDICT

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Good:
Interesting take on the Hercules mythos, amusing first two acts, effective supporting cast
Bad:
Cliche-laden, really wonky pacing
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3 VsS O L I D

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