As Dwayne Johnson continues his ascent to superstardom, the challenge becomes figuring out just what to do with the guy on the big screen. Obviously he can’t play some nameless office drone. He has to play a larger-than-life figure who might, you know, look like The Rock. So, perhaps inevitably, he’s been cast as Hercules. And since director Brett Ratner is calling the shots, the results are pleasantly mediocre.
Following an opening montage that rushes through a few of Big Herc’s twelve labors in garishly fake CGI, we’re introduced to a somewhat revisionist take on the character. It turns out that all those hydra-slaying legends were merely grand white lies to help the cause of a Rock-sized Herc and his gang of merry mercenaries. Hercules’ nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchis) spills out all the tales as the mouth of the group. Aphiaraus (Ian McShane) is the seer/grizzled wise-cracker. Autolycus (Rufus Sewell) handles the Han Solo duties (doing so quite literally in the finale). The midriff flaunting Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal) is the eye candy/archer. Finally, Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) is the requisite silent ball of violence.
They’re a good team and hand out plenty of ass-whooping all over ancient Greece. Then one day the king of Thrace (John Hurt) hires Hercules and his gang to defend the land against an evil army. The only trouble is that Thrace’s yarn doesn’t seem truthful and Hurt’s casting pretty well confirms it. So, lies and treachery are afoot, exactly the sort of thing that helps a would-be hero become a full-on hero.
In essence, this movie is a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing beyond the faint whiff of cheese. Thankfully, that proves to be a good thing. There’s no need for the world to have a thoughtful, earnest and artistically ambitious Hercules film. But a cheesy Herc blockbuster in which The Rock levels armies with a massive club and flings horses over his shoulder with his bare hands? Sign me up and pass the popcorn. This is one of those rare instances in which hiring Brett Ratner actually helped the movie. Ratner’s m.o. is to dumb his movies down to the lowest common denominator and shoot some expensive action sequences. That’s what he did with ‘Hercules’, and with the wise Dwayne Johnson stunt casting at the center, Ratner has delivered a pleasingly dumb sword-and-sandal flick. Sure, the plot is predictable, the dialogue dull, and the attempts at emotional beats are laughable. Yet it all flies by in an entertaining way, the action looks pretty in gloriously gimmicky 3D, and the all money spent ended up on screen.
The secret to the movie is Dwayne Johnson, a living action figure with a complete grasp of his own image, strengths and limitations. His massive form bounds into action scenes and does things no human can do, but that you could at least buy someone who looks like The Rock and is named Hercules pulling off. The only shame is that Ratner essentially plays the whole film without humor (even if he doesn’t take the material deathly seriously). Johnson gets one funny line in the whole movie, but it’s a showstopper that will make audiences erupt.
Had Johnson been allowed to play more scenes for laughs and more supporting actors had been able to jam their tongues into their cheeks (other than Ian McShane, who clearly had a ball), this could have been a delightful mid-summer treat. Instead, it’s merely an acceptable timewaster without much content beyond the set-pieces and Dwayne Johnson hero shots. That makes this ‘Hercules’ a mild missed opportunity, but it’s at least more than entertaining enough to avoid feeling like a failure. I suppose that’s the best you can hope for from a Brett Ratner joint.