********* 6 out of 10 *********
Director: Brett Ratner
Actors: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt
If you enter the theatre willing to simply take what the film-maker is trying to sell, and not ask beyond that, then you are likely to have a much more pleasant time than otherwise. It sounds simple, but does not always work. For there are many who always leave with the feeling that things “could have been better”. Well, the makers of Hercules sold this movie as one with lots of visual effects and a beefed up Dwayne Johnson. And on those counts they deliver, which would satisfy the pragmatists. But beyond that they deliver little, which would disappoint the optimists who would have come expecting a glorious tale around the Greek demigod. So depending on which camp you are in, Hercules could leave you with a feeling of satisfaction or dejection. Word from the wise, expect little and you will not be disappointed.
Hercules narrates the adventurous story of the famous demigod, said to be the son of Zeus, after the completion of his twelve Labours. Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is now the leader of a band of mercenaries, though plans to have one final pay-day before he retires in solitude. That moment arrives when he is hired by Lord Cotys (John Hurt) to train his army of Thrace and battle a bloodthirsty warlord. Hercules and his group are faced with the difficult task of making soldiers out of farmers, while also somehow bringing down a fierce rival. This seems a challenge befitting the might of Hercules.
Hercules has been based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars. While the movie has a reputed source for its story line, its screenplay isn’t particularly charming. The idea of showing Hercules as more human than God is quite interesting, but beyond that things appear way bit more simplistic than was necessary. Director Brett Ratner has worked on a number of big projects in the past, and one thing we can complain about him is that his end-product always feels as if it could have jumped up one more level but for some reason Ratner doesn’t push for that glory. So be it Red Dragon or X-Men: The Last Stand and now Hercules, the same complaint remains. Ratner captures some ideas, some shots, perfectly well in the movie, like the opening scenes when the Labours of Hercules are being narrated is truly fascinating, but interweaves it with scenes of mediocrity (a battle scene with some village dwellers is excruciatingly dull and poorly co-ordinated), which cause the overall quality of the movie to plummet. But as far as the CGI is concerned, it is wonderful and the highlight of the movie-watching experience. Hercules’ battles with some of the “monsters” stand out, adding some splendor to the film which borders on the banal more than once. The background score by Spanish composer Fernando Velázquez is a tad disappointing, especially in the first half of the movie, as it fails to really build up Hercules as the legend he is supposed to be, though things get better towards the finale.
While Dwayne Johnson would easily make for the best physical fit among the actors in Hollywood to play the part of Hercules, the question that needed to be answered was whether he had finally got into the boots of an action hero who could carry a high-budget movie solely on his shoulders. He has got most of the right traits, he has a charismatic personality, he demands the attention of the audience, he plays his characters with lot of confidence, and it is easy to imagine him breaking steel chains effortlessly. In Hercules, Dwayne Johnson has again put in a lot of effort to get the look right, and he gives a fairly good representation of the Greek demigod. But the thing about the great action heroes of yesteryears is that they made it big with the right sort of movies which enhanced the qualities they had to offer. So while Sylvester Stallone in Rambo and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator will always be remembered, these movies worked not only because of their lead actors but also on the back of the quality of the films too. Dwayne Johnson will have to choose that perfect project to leap into the category of those great action heroes of the past, which Hercules could have provided but fails to do so. It just seems like a matter of time before this happens though. There is also the added bonus of some other fine actors in Hercules like Ian McShane and Rufus Sewell who are part of Hercules’ “Merry Men” and John Hurt who plays the king of Thrace. In addition, Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal also makes an impressive mark as the sharp archer Atalanta, and hopefully there is more to come from her in Hollywood.
Overall, Hercules impresses with its visual effects and solidifies Dwayne Johnson’s presence further in Hollywood. But director Brett Ratner does not do enough justice to the legend of Hercules, a character many of us are very much in awe. The tales of Zeus’ son are of course immortal, and so maybe someday, another director might build a more glorious film befitting Hercules’ heroics!