Directed by Brett Ratner
Written by Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos from Steve Moore
Starring Dwayne Johnson, John Hurt, Ian McShane
Alright, I’ll admit I do have a bit of a soft spot for Dwayne Johnson. Not in a ‘touching each other’s bottoms’ kind of way, you understand. More of a ‘bless him, he just doesn’t give up, does he?’, kind of way. Normally, when I do get a window to watch something, I’ll normally grab it, but this one passed me by on the night it came out (despite having a seat booked) and if it had been any other former wrestler who took up acting to make a bit more cash, this probably would have gone unseen. But there is something about Dwayne Johnson that made me rebook and watch it anyway.
It wasn’t the prospect of thespian excellence. It wasn’t even that John Hurt and Ian McShane were featured in the cast. It wasn’t the fighting, or the hydra, the beard, hair or massive shouting or anything else. It was Mr Johnson that was the draw. When all is said and done, let’s face it, he really can’t act his way out of a paper bag, but he’s got something. Call it dumb charm, maybe. You can’t argue that the big screen is quite fond of him. A fact that, given his original career aspirations, really shouldn’t be the case.
So, having a proper go at turning this alleged sow’s ear into the preverbial silk purse is Brett Ratner, which is not a name synonymous with historical epics. The Director of the likes of Tower Heist, Rush Hour, X-Men Last Stand and others enjoys good enough credentials for the action sequences here, but he’s hardly what you might call subtle.
And here is Hercules’ potential problem. This is an epic story. Granted, this is a version that has been vetted for comic book consumption, before being squished into ninety minutes on screen and therefore lacks a little, well, polish. But what it lacks in quality, it more than makes up for in enthusiasm. I kept wanting to compare this to Gladiator, because on occasion, there was the very same sense of awesome perceived scale. Ratner’s Greece didn’t look anywhere as impressive as Ridley’s Rome, to be fair, but the simple fact that I was reminded of this other ‘swords and sandals’ story can only be said to be something in Ratner’s favour. I also got more than a faint whiff of Zack Snyder’s 300. It may not have had the same swagger or visual flair, but again, no mean feat.
So, as for contemporaries, Ratner is certainly batting in the big league, but if we’re honest, he does come up short in almost every department. As I said, without as much gravitas as Russell Crowe or Gerard Butler, Dwayne Johnson is always going to struggle. He may be a physical mountain of a man, but his shortcomings are obvious when playing in this particular league of extraordinary gentlemen. Yes, we appreciate that this was adapted from a comic book version of the Hercules story, but still, think what Snyder did with 300 and then come back and tell me I’m expecting too much. The story isn’t as grand and the script is a touch too predictable to really claim it as wholly original.
Nevertheless, Hercules is still immense fun and will make you laugh at times and cause the odd sharp intake of breath during those moments of what are quite fierce fight scenes for a 12A title. The greatest compliment I can probably give it is that I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. Johnson is likeable and he does command the screen when on it, just not with too much style. He’s more of a lumbering giant that you need to make sure you always know both the location and direction of for your own safety, rather than stare agog at, entranced by his talent. John Hurt and Ian McShane do raise the quotient in the acting chops department, but neither of them have too much to do.
Mindless, loud fun that will certainly not tax you too highly.