Movie Review - Hercules

Early in the year, a film called The Legend of Hercules hit theaters. It starred Kellan Lutz, the blonde beefcake from the Twilight films and Renny Harlin directed. I enjoyed that film on a purely superficial level. I can't help but line that movie up to this one starring Dwayne Johnson (Fast Five and The Game Plan) and directed by Brett Ratner (Rush Hour and Red Dragon).

Harlin's He-Man was in effect an atheist. The myth is that Hercules is the son of Zeus, the Greek god of lightning. Lutz's Hercules is never told this, so when the myth confronts him, he eschews it. He doesn't believe. This idea is undermined by the end through the demonstration of supernatural acts, one act in particular that is meant to make a believer out of Lutz's disbelief and re-affirm the existence of God.

Ratner's muscle-bound manly man is not an atheist per se, but he certainly doesn't believe in the son of Zeus myth, even though he and his entourage are the ones perpetuating said myth. In this version, written by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, based on the comic book by Steve Moore, Hercules is not a hero. He's a hired gun, a mercenary who goes from place-to-place, eliminating threats for a handsome price. Reece Ritchie who plays Iolaus, the nephew of Hercules and dutiful member of his entourage generally precedes his arrival to spread rumors of his great exploits.

Hercules wasn't always a mercenary. He was at first a family man with a wife and children. In a flashback, we learn that they were killed, though we're not sure how or by whom. That flashback also proffers that the rumor and gossip of him being the son of Zeus was always circling him, but it's not clear how that got started, or why it was perpetrated.

Yet, it becomes clear that Hercules is a kind of con man. He makes people believe that he's this super-powered being in order to get what he wants. By the end, it's not about undermining that, as it is proving that there's nothing special about Hercules that isn't just as special as any one else. He's a human like any one else. Therefore, any one else can be just like him, a legend and accomplish legendary things.

This is a better note to end rather than the note on which Harlin's film ends. I suppose Harlin's film embraces the same religious message that a lot of faith-based movie-goers would prefer and have been getting in films like God's Not Dead and Heaven Is For Real. Ratner's film embraces a more secular point-of-view, but without ever denouncing or denying the people's belief in Hades or Olympus.

Putting that aside, Ratner succeeds where Harlin fails in his overall direction. Harlin's film was quite self-serious, whereas Ratner's tone is more comical and a sense of irony hangs in the air and within his characters. Rufus Sewell (Dark City and A Knight's Tale) who plays Autolycus, the right-hand-man of Hercules, is constantly cracking jokes and making wise-ass remarks. Ingrid Bolsø Berdal who plays Atalanta, the Athenian warrior, throws out one-liners too, so this movie certainly is funnier.

There's some great performances here as well from a great supporting cast, including Ian McShane, John Hurt, Joseph Fiennes, Peter Mullan and Aksel Hennie. What's also great is that there are two major hand-to-hand combat scenes here. It looks like hundreds of men fight, hundreds of actual men and no CGI was used. Maybe CGI was used, but I couldn't tell.

There were several moments during those hand-to-hand combats that felt like CGI and felt rather ridiculous. Johnson's Hercules did seem to possess a kind of mega-strength where one seemingly effortless punch sent men flying through the air. Everything else seemed rather grounded up until the end when Hercules ceased being a con man who claimed to have superpowers to actually having superpowers. There is some confusion there.

A scene from Ratner's film even mimics a scene from Harlin's when Hercules breaks free of his chains, reinforcing in both movies Hercules coming to terms with who he is for himself and not just in the terms that other people see him. Johnson is a much more magnetic and engaging screen presence than Lutz, but that kind of charisma was cultivated over time. I'm not sure if it's enough to carry this film.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, and partial nudity
Running Time: 1 hr. and 38 mins.


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