Saturday, 26 July 2014

Review of Hercules (2014)

Brett Ratner's Hercules opens ominously with a voiceover delivered by Ian McShane, in which he informs us that we "know nothing" (admittedly about the myth of Hercules). Immediately I was put at a sense of unease as this kind of address towards an audience more or less sums up the attitude of the blockbusters currently in our cinemas; ones which treat the audience as if they're idiots. Does this signal Hercules to be yet another dumb movie?

The answer is yes, but that's not as bad a thing as it could have been. Don't get me wrong; this film is dumb. It's also cheesy, predictable and formulaic to an almost unreasonable degree. Yet it embraces its inherent boneheaded-ness and whiteknuckle-ness head on, and despite not delivering the purported "truth" about Hercules (the end cheerfully asserts that the truth, whatever it is, doesn't matter), it nevertheless provides a diverting, relatively good-natured and rompy 98 minutes, and sets itself above the likes of Transformers and the similarly revisionist "I, Frankenstein" from earlier this year by not allowing itself to get bogged down. It's light, and zippy, and it works well.

The plot is a break from the usual Hercules myth, and comes after his 12 Challenges, which serve as the films' slightly irreverent prologue, and also set the tone. Shortly after, Hercules and his group are confronted by Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) to help her father, King Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt doing what John Hurt does), to purge Thrace of some Centaurs (in one of the films' more subversive moments, the Centaurs are revealed to just be men on horses).

That's about it in terms of plot, aside from some requisite u-turns and double crosses and the like which I won't spoil, although you could probably guess. The most interesting fact of the film is, in fact, the presentation of Hercules himself. Instead of being the solitary demigod legend of yore, he is in fact the leader of a team, who does not necessarily possess superheroic powers and certainly plays up to his role of celebrity. As the film begins with his 12 Challenges over, we discover that he is a self-titled "mercenary", looking to get together some money and retire in solitude.

The inclusion of some kind of team for Hercules is an interesting point, and the film references the fact that without them, he would simple be dead. Comprising Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), Atalanta (Ingrid BolsΓΈ  Berdal), Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), Amphiaraus (Ian McShane) and Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), they are all saddled with the fact that they are playing second fiddle to the feature attraction, and yet all bring something small yet memorable to their role. Tydeus is reminiscent of the mute Viking warriors of legend; Atalanta has some memorably salty lines ("your tongue is as inadequate as your manhood"); Iolaus is Hercules's nephew, and a gifted storyteller; Amphiaraus converses with the Gods, and is convinced that his doom is imminent at every opportunity. Perhaps the only weak link is Autolycus; ironically, given the mythological origins of the film, his character is reduced to deus ex machina in the final act.

Yet we never forget who their leader is, and an enormous factor in the films' success is the star presence of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. After performing in the truly odious "Pain and Gain" from last year, it was a relief to see him working in more innocent fare. He carries that swagger, smile, and cocksure attitude that audiences tend to respond to, and I warmed to him myself as the film went on. His character, the eponymous Hercules, suffers from underwriting, and also is saddled with a slightly ham-fisted back story which is too neatly resolved. He goes from being the amoral "mercenary looking for gold" to suddenly developing a conscience when the film needs it, although these quibbles are somewhat stymied by the fact that Johnson convinces. He's the real deal. He brings the necessary muscle. The fact that the film is one big play on the nature of celebrity ("that might have been exagerrated a little", when a child expresses awe at fighting a boar for three days and three nights), is something he pulls off well.

There are little niggles here and there; one sequence involving the threat of decapitation goes on a touch too long and is far too distressing for a 12A rating (although the film is generally pushing the edges of this category anyway; it's rather bloodthirsty in places). There are some dodgy moments in Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopolous's script, based on Steve Moore's graphic novel, and some of the dialogue consists of the kind of plateaus I honestly thought had been phased out of modern moviemaking- "Fighting is the most important thing in battle; other than surviving". And as I have said, the film is so formulaic it resembles a join-the-dots book that's already been filled in by a toddler.

And yet, the battle sequences are memorable and don't ruin themselves with an overly frenetic editing style; things such as overhead shots and establishing shots keep us rooted in the here and now. Johnson is a captivating presence. The supporting cast excel. And it's got to the point now where I'd happily take a simpler plot over one that's needlessly complicated. The film looks good too; Dante Spinotti's cinematography has some keen composition, and some of the locations are memorable and exciting, overcoming their computer generated origins.

It doesn't add up to much, but there's just enough here to warrant a trip to the cinema. It's undemanding, unassuming, good ripping fun, and whilst it doesn't overcome its shortfalls, it sidesteps them with enough finesse to retain its dignity.


  1. Hello,
    you sent me an email a while ago about publicity swapping. It was great to get an email like that out of the blue, but sorry I'm not really into the idea of linking to you- I only link to blogs I genuinely read , and film reviews aren't really my thing. Thanks and good luck though :)

  2. Dah that's a shame, thanks anyway!

  3. great review, keep it up! Where is the review for Planet of the Apes and Edge of Tomorrow? Have you seen The Flowers of War with Christian Bale yet? Care to review that one?

  4. Thank you very much! Sorry for the late reply to this one, I do try and reply to each comment ASAP but I've just gone to uni, so as you can imagine things are a bit hectic :) and I haven't seen either of those films yet :( they're the ones I've missed, but I'll definitely pick them up on DVD! And I haven't seen that one, but it looks very interesting, and when I do see it I'll review it here :) thank you for taking the time to comment (I'll reply to your X-Men comment too)