The Rock is Hercules, minus the mythology, in this cold summer turkey


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Directed by Brett Ratner. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Aksel Hennie, Rebecca Ferguson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Irina Shayk, Tobias Santelmann, Joe Anderson. Written by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, from the Radical comic created by Steve Moore.

Note: Hercules is screening in both Czech-dubbed and English language versions in Prague; check showtimes before heading out to the cinema.

Just what we all wanted: a Hercules movie minus the mythology. In director Brett Ratner’s film, the famous Labours of Hercules – his battles against the Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar, the Nemean Lion, and others – are merely stories told by his nephew to boost the big guy’s reputation. Is he the son of Zeus? Maybe not. The film is a little iffy on backstory. 

Instead, Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules is something of a travelling mercenary – a mixture of Han Solo and Conan the Barbarian – who fights others’ battles for gold. The film is set some time after he has completed the 12 Labours, which seem to have taken place in a de-mythologized version of events: the Hydra, for example, was actually a few guys wearing serpent masks.

The film also takes place after Hercules has gone into exile after murdering his family under the spell of Hera, another event which has been de-mythologized and stripped of its meaning: here, Herc has stark flashbacks with blood and high contrast lighting about the murder of his wife and children, but he can’t remember the gory details. Did he kill them? Ooh, a mystery. 

Hercules doesn’t just go into battle by himself, though – he has a capable band of fellow mercenaries that includes Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), nephew and storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), crazed warrior Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), token female Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and future-seeing (kinda) Amphiaraus (Deadwood’s Ian McShane). 

Ratner’s Hercules doesn’t bother much with story: after an introductory bout with a band of pirates, Herc & co. are hired out by Lord Cotys (John Hurt) to lead his army in Thrace against a band of marauders led by the mysterious Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). Rhesus purportedly commands an army of centaurs, but given the premise of the film, that’s another mythic creature that probably won’t make an appearance. 

Peter Mullen stars as the leader of the army Hercules takes over; Joseph Fiennes shows up briefly in the flashback scenes as the Greek King Eurystheus, who has some connection to the night Hercules’ wife was murdered (of course, he’s bound to show up at the end, too.)

As Hercules and co. trains Lord Cotys’ army of farmers into seasoned warriors – Braveheart style – I couldn’t help but pine for the mythology: it’s stunning that a Hercules movie could be this dull and boring. On top of that, the filmmakers aren’t taking this material seriously – Ratner’s Hercules is a couple notches goofier than the Kevin Sorbo TV series. No joke. 

Amidst the training montages and Johnson’s oily biceps glistening in the sun, there are two extended battle sequences throughout the film that total about 20 minutes of action. But what should be the film’s high points are so mishandled by the director that we cannot decipher any kind of military strategy in the battle scenes – everything is shot in close-up, with bloodless thuds and slams and Hercules clubbing people, punching a wolf, and upturning a horse until one side has been arbitrarily declared the winner. 

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Hercules was based on a Radical comic book (The Thracian Wars) written by the Steve Moore, and adapted by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos for the screen. Moore, who passed away this March, reportedly didn’t receive any compensation for his work, nor was he consulted at any point during the making of the film. Friend and fellow writer Alan Moore (no relation) detailed his back story in an interview with Bleedingcool.com, where he urges fans to avoid the movie. 

Back in January, who would have thought that Renny Harlin’s quick & dirty The Legend of Hercules, starring Kellan Lutz as the legendary hero, was not just a cheap cash-in but instead the class of 2014’s Hercules crop. Ratner’s film cost $40 million more to make, but, incredibly, it looks even cheaper, filled with chintzy CGI and greenscreen work reminiscent of last year’s Riddick

This Hercules is one of the worst films of the year in my eyes, though many critics have been inexplicably giving it a pass as harmless popcorn entertainment. You may feel the same, but I wouldn’t recommend taking the risk to find out. 

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