“Hercules” is the sort of film in which arrow supplies never diminish, a man tosses a horse and the hero spends a large portion of the final act topless. Directed by Brett Ratner, but delivering little of the pain usually inherent to such a statement, “Hercules” is a harmless, occasionally endearing hunk of steroidal cheese. The film-maker still has no discernable visual identity, but he allows this nonsense to propel at quite a clip, filling out the progressively more ridiculous set-pieces with a game cast. If you’re going to make blatant rubbish for the mass market, that’s just about the best way to do it.
The screenplay has at least one deft trick up its sleeve, coating the myth with cute revisionist inflections. In this “Hercules” his fabled labours are actually a massive PR tactic, used by the titular brute and his merry band of mercenaries to attract employment from besieged kingdoms. Need a hero to morph your mice (or unpractised farmers) into men? Then turn no further than Herc, brought to life with immense physicality and sporadic lashings of wit by the increasingly impressive Dwayne Johnson. There are plenty of battles to revel in, but the real texture of Ratner’s film can be traced to its oddly cunning commentary on A-list culture and the catty political manoeuvres swapped between dignitaries of Ancient Greece. I’m not saying “Hercules” is hugely insightful, but the engagement with contemporary culture is sly, using the protagonist to birth the media conjured façade of celebrity.
The needy King in this instance is John Hurt, clearly jobbing, but never less than entertaining. He hires Hercules and his disciples to help defeat a Centaur threat, using the hero’s might and artificial legend to encourage ferocity among the province’s timid brood. The action gets a little choppy in spots, Ratner eternally a fast cutter, but the spectacle of certain environments and lack of self-seriousness prove rather appealing. The film’s one potentially dark avenue is undermined by the fact it revolves around an underwear model; one occasionally is prone to fits of semi-nakedness. I guess that’s just the Ratner way. As Hercules’ best bud, Rufus Sewell is a shining highlight, playing good for a change, but not without welcome dollops of snark and typical British standoffishness. The actor appears to be having fun, and for the most part that’s what forgiving viewers get as well.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014