Director: Brett Ratner
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane
98 mins; Class 12;
KRS Releasing Ltd
I would hazard a guess that Greek mythology enthusiasts turned up their noses at The Legend of Hercules, released earlier this year, for its bland Mills-and-Boon style approach to the legendary hero.
They may be equally affronted by this latest take, starring action star Dwight Johnson as the demigod – it is after all based on Radical Comics’ Hercules by Steve Moore, so more than a few liberties have been taken with the legend. Thankfully, however, this take on the character boasts action galore, some fun characters and enough dollops of humour to provide a couple of hours of pure popcorn entertainment, perfect for this time of year.
Having completed the legendary 12 Labours, the demigod Hercules is feared and revered in equal measure. Yet, despite his super-human strength, he suffers from all-too-human angst. Having survived a painful tragedy, he wanders the Greek empire with his five disparate companions: Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), all mercenaries-for-hire searching for their next job.
Hercules’s retirement is post-poned once more as he is approached by Cotys (John Hurt), ruler of Thrace, who needs Hercules’s assistance in vanquishing the warlord Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). The latter is wreaking death and destruction on his kingdom, For this task, Hercules must prove that the legends surrounding him are in fact true.
Action galore, some fun characters and enough dollops of humour
The film kicks off with a narration of Hercules completing his labours – facing terrifying and terrifically rendered – monsters, including the nine-headed Lernaean Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar and the gargantuan Nemean Lion, whose skin he proudly uses as outerwear. The pace slows as we are treated to some exposition of the legend he has created around himself. For, like many an adaptation of heroic figures, Hercules attempts to look at the human figure beneath the legend. In terms of narrative and execution, Hercules is hardly ground-breaking – except for those scenes in which Hercules actually does break the ground.
Yet, Ratner keeps the action coming in thick and fast, and while he does not resort to too many CG-rendered, highly-polished fights, he has created a series of exciting up close and personal battles where we witness Hercules in the thick of it… wielding his mighty club with confidence, or uprooting a horseman with the ease of a child kicking over a tiny plastic stool.
Clearly, no expense was spared in the creation of these scenes, with armies of warriors and horsemen bedecked in impecca-bly designed costumes and magnificent armour and weaponry.
The final battle is rather awe-inspiring, as with the rage befitting a demigod, Hercules finally gives his enemies the fire and brimstone come-uppance they truly deserve.
There is no denying Johnson’s charisma and his musculature completely takes over the screen whenever he is on it.
If the serious scenes of Hercules bemoaning the fate of his family or pondering his place in the world do not quite ring true, it’s the fault of the script not the actor, as he commits to the role fully.
He delivers his lines with his tongue firmly in cheek; acknowledging that this is a film to be enjoyed, not taken too seriously.