Hercules is a legend from ancient Greek Mythology who was the son of Zeus and the human Alcmane. Because of this, Zeus’s wife Hera continued to torment Hercules all his life, sending snakes to kill him as a baby, sending him on 12 insanely difficult ‘labors’, and driving him mad enough to kill his own wife and children. The legend has been told and retold in art, stories and movies. Good News – this movie is better than you were expecting; bad news – it’s still not that great. There are some commercials that are claiming it is the “role Dwayne Johnson was born to play”. I have to disagree with that. I feel that he is best in action-comedies, and there not really enough comedy in this sword-n-sandals piece.
This Hercules movie, coming out about 6 months after the Kellan Lutz starring “The Legend of Hercules” from earlier this year, was directed by Brett Ratner. He is another “director” who started his career by directing music videos. In case you are not familiar with Brett Ratner, he’s the guy who did X-Men 3 – yes, that guy. He also did the Rush Hour movies (the first one was fantastic! But then there were more.) and Tower Heist.
The movie is based on the graphic novel “Hercules: The Thracian Wars” written by Steve Moore. The story tells of the man Hercules was before he became the legend history would remember.
This movie follows Hercules and his band of merry men (seer Amphiarius, knife-thrower Autolycus, amazon Atalata, mad-dog crazy-guy Tydeus, and Hercules nephew/storyteller Iolaus) in about 1400 BCE as they cruise around ancient Greece, acting as mercenaries, and taking whatever job they can for money. As they travel, Iolaus acts as hype-man, going ahead of the group, telling the stories of Hercules’s 12 labors, slowly building his legend of the super-strong half-god son of Zeus, and hopefully getting townspeople inspired enough to want to spend more money on hiring Hercules and his crew. The epic battles you see in all the trailers of Hercules completing his labors (facing the Nemean lion, the boar, the Hydra, etc.) are really all just parts of one flashback as Iolaus spins the tale to build the legend. Nice work marketing department, you hoodwinked us again. Meanwhile, Hercules is fighting his own internal demons regarding the death of his wife and children back in Athens – the rumor is that he killed them after being driven insane by the goddess Hera because he was a constant reminder of Zeus’s infidelity. Whether or not that is true, they are all dead – he’s not – and there were no witnesses. That didn’t look too good for him, so the people blamed him and apparently chased him out of Athens.
The band encounters the lady Ergenia who wants to recruit them to come help her father, Lord Cotys, free Thrace from a ruthless encroaching warlord named Rhesus, who may or may not have a cursed army filled with demons and centaurs. Once they arrive in the town, they learn that the Cotys’s army is untrained farmers and townspeople. Hercules and posse agree to help train the army. Cotys doesn’t heed Hercules’s warning to wait until the army is trained and takes them to face Rhesus, promptly walking into an ambush. Hercules tells Cotys, “I told you so”, and Cotys agrees to let the crew do more training. They regroup, try again, and the second time, end up capturing Rhesus, who is not actually running an army of demons and centaurs (that was disappointing). While being lead into the city to be publicly mocked, Rhesus warns Hercules that things are not as they seem, and that maybe he should take a second look at Cotys and his situation. Well, Hercules has started to get sweet on Cotys’s daughter, so he digs a little deeper and decides to stay to sort things out, even though Autolycus is all about moving on with the payment. At this point you get one of those scenes that is in every movie with a hero and group of supporters, where the others proclaim their loyalty, and choose to stay and fight (even die!) by their leader, except Autolycus definitely throws a curve by taking off with the money, because he is the smart one. Eventually, Cotys reveals his true colors, and his true ally – who just so happens to be the king of Athens. This guy has some information explaining why Hercules keeps hallucinating Cereberus (the three-headed hound that guards hell) when being haunted by the deaths of his family. Hercules and the gang get imprisoned, where Hercules finally accepts that he probably is the son of Zeus, just in time to free them all and take on the army they trained. Oh, and Autolycus pops back up at a crucial moment to help the crew out when they need it.
If you remember the “Legendary Journeys” TV show (which made you want to visit New Zealand long before you had even heard of Peter Jackson), the names Iolaus and Autolycus are familiar to you, but because there were added to that show from legend. However, where that show was silly and fun, this movie tends to take itself a bit too seriously, with a couple of exceptions.
- It absolutely is a Dwayne Johnson movie (I am still going to call him the Rock, okay?). The hair and beard look ridiculous, but he does a great job with the role. He certainly is a hero, and he’s a great movie star, and once he finds the right movie he’s really going to be amazing, I just don’t think this is it yet. As I said, I would prefer he be given a comedy because he’s so genuinely charming, but he plays it pretty straight in this.
- Ian McShane was surprisingly fun as the seer Amphiaraus. He seems to be constantly high on some strange weeds that he’s carrying around, and he can see when people die, as well as his own death. He also functions as Hercules’s conscious.
- John Hurt plays Lord Cotys, who at first comes off as pleasant, old, and desperate to save his people from the ravaging Rhesus. However, as the story progresses, he reveals more and more layers and becomes more and more of a villain. Although, no matter how much you are looking for it – nothing bursts from his chest in this movie.
- The brightest spot of this movie was Rufus Sewell as Autolycus. Similar to the way Bruce Campbell’s Autolycus stole every episode of the Hercules TV show, this one steals every scene of the movie he’s in. I have loved Rufus Sewell since Dark City, and especially in A Knight’s Tale. He certainly seems to be having more fun in this movie than I have seen him have in a long time. He and McShane seem to be on the same page of enjoyment.
- Aksel Hennie plays the crazy guy Tydeus. He’s got an insane backstory about how he was born in a battle, and basically raised by dogs or more crazy guys. In any case, Hercules rescued him from something or other, so now while he doesn’t speak, he certainly is loyal. He has a berserker fighting style that helps train the farmers.
- Ingrid Bolso Berdal plays the Amazon Atalanta. She has a similar backstory in that Hercules rescued her from something or other, so now she stays with him and helps him on his adventures. She helps train the farmers in archery.
- Reece Ritchie plays the storyteller Iolaus. He really is the one responsible for building the legend and making Hercules seem larger than life. He also has a bit of a complex about never being allowed in battle. Hercules keeps him protected and away from the fighting, because he’s his nephew, and because he’s too young. So he has this arc during the movie of wanting to become a warrior.
- Joseph Fiennes does show up as the King of Athens, and he has some iffy relationship with Hercules’s past and the mysterious death of his wife and children. He’s pretty electric as a bad guy and is just fantastic. As he got more and more threatening though, I did expect him to threaten to call his big brother Voldemort.
- Rebecca Ferguson plays Ergenia, who, in addition to being Cotys’s well-meaning daughter who only wants to get her son, the true heir, out from under her father’s thumb, is a self-taught healer – because there is such a need for it. Seriously – that’s a line in the movie.
- Tobias Santelmann plays the much maligned Rhesus. Once we learn he is not a centaur (disappointed!), and after he’s captured, we start to learn that he’s a better person than we were lead to believe. All his character development comes in the matter of three or four sentences of exposition, but it sort-of works.
Overall the movie is just fine, I suppose it’s better than the Kellan Lutz Hercules movie that was out earlier this year, but not by much. Sewell, McShane, and Fiennes all seem to be on the same page about what kind of movie they are making, and they each do it with a wink and a giggle. That made me wish everyone was on the same page as those three, because that movie would have been way more fun. The tone was uneven, the effects were average – I did really like the idea of building Hercules as a man more than a myth, and I enjoyed the juxtaposition of having Iolaus’s stories in the beginning relating how Hercules accomplished all his labors alone and on mythic proportions with the animations over the end credits – showing how the team members were all there and helped Hercules accomplish all his tasks.
I gave Kellen Lutz’s Legend of Hercules a 6, really that should have gotten a 5 and this gets a 6. 6 out of 10 – lost points for no supernatural things in the movie at all, and the marketing trying to sell the movie on the effects that were really all just part of Iolaus’s stories in the beginning. Gained points for Sewell’s performance, too awesome. Lost points for Ergenia teaching herself to be a doctor, and being part of the scam. Gained points for the teamwork aspect, but lost points for Rock’s beard and hair. Lost points for Ratner allegedly turning down Kevin Sorbo’s offer to cameo in the movie, because it would be too silly and not fit the tone. Unfortunately, I think a little more silly would have helped – and a Kevin Sorbo cameo would have made me happy.
Bonus Video 1: A Knight’s Tale – an absolutely fantastic movie with genius performance’s from Sewell and Paul Bettany.
Bonus Video 2: Dark City – chances are you forgot about this, or you are too young to remember it. Check it out, it’s amazing.
Bonus Video 3: Kevin Sorbo – because.
Bonus Video 4: Cast interviews