Movie Review: Hercules
This month we get a Hercules movie, courtesy of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, that seeks to rehabilitate Herc’s reputation with movie goers. February’s Legend of Hercules, a movie that looked more like a mash up of “Spartacus- Blood and Sand” with elements of Gladiator and The 300 thrown in at random, muddied the waters by slapping the moniker Hercules on a generic sword and sandal clunker. This stronger and more agile Hercules easily distances himself from that pretender. At times the new Hercules is loathe to pick up the title of Son of Zeus, perhaps unwilling to draw direct comparison to earlier, cheesier films of the same name…but ultimately this easy-going romp through the Peloponnese is far closer to the mighty champion people have been hoping for.
Hercules and His Merry Men
The introduction to our tale brings new-comers up to date on the legend of this Hercules: rumored to be the son of a mortal woman and the king of the gods, Zeus, Hercules has drawn the ire of his stepmother, Hera, since birth. Blessed with power and bravery, Hercules undergoes incredible trials in order to win his freedom from Hera’s wrath, and to gain the right to a peaceful life with his beloved wife and children. He prevails, but tragedy parts him from his home. Since completing his labors, Hercules has set out to make his fortune with his own two hands, give or take a dozen helping hands from a wizard (Ian McShane), a thief (Rufus Sewell), a mute berserker (Aksel Hennie), and an amazonian archer (Ingrid Berdal). His doting nephew, Iolaus, follows the mercenary band, singing Hercules praise to anyone who will listen. Eventually, these embellished tales land Hercules and his crew in front of Lord Cotys (John Hurt) of Thrace, who hires them to save his kingdom from civil war.
Hercules is reluctant to claim any kinship with the gods, and the movie is constructed in such a way that you can pretty much believe either story: a mortal who has made his own glory, or an immortal whose anger with the gods has caused him to spurn their aid. The script is timid to the point of deception when it comes to settling this score. For most of the movie, this narrative double-speak allows you to enjoy Hercules any way you choose, but eventually it becomes a distraction, and strains credulity attempting to show Johnson accomplishing incredible feats, only to have a silly alternate explanation waiting to rob the spectacle of its mythical grandeur.
Many sword and sandal films of the rent past, such as Troy and The 300, have gone to great lengths to deny the gods, or to at least claim impartial agnosticism. It is interesting that the more explicitly fantastical Clash of the Titans series has openly embraced the mythology (and made a lot more money doing so.)
Does the mighty hero redeem his legacy, or does another labor await viewers until finally Hercules is made respectable again? The answer to this question lies mostly at the feet of Dwayne Johnson. His modesty and likability ultimately make a psychologically bound Hercules who is nonetheless fun to be around. The film, while more “adult” in its action and blood shed, reminds me most of Kevin Sorbo‘s campy “Hercules the Legendary Journeys” television series, though not because of any out and out cartoonishness. Sorbo and his entourage of companions were a great deal of fun to watch, as is Johnson and his motley crew. Though I would have loved a story that reveled in its mythological roots, the chemistry between the cast was so engaging that I found myself wanting a sequel before this film had even ended. Here’s hoping they can get the band back together for at least one more show.