Hercules is Too Human

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Brett Ratner’s pedestrian take on the half-tank, half-man is an unfortunate bait-and-switch for audiences. Marketed as a mythic adventure full of gods and monsters, the actual movie is more akin to Ridley Scott’s woefully staid “Robin Hood.” That is, a story that seeks to strip away the myth and show us the “truth” behind the legend. Granted, the film opens with Hercules’ famed quests to defeat various creatures of the dark, but these are later revealed to be only exaggerated versions of that pesky “truth,” and they last all of five minutes to boot. Dwayne Johnson, the actor formerly known as “The Rock,” tries mightily to inject his brand of bullish charm into a rather dull affair, but his efforts prove mostly fruitless in the face of a filmmaker who’s carved out a journeyman career for himself, and has no intention of stopping. Veteran character actors John Hurt and Peter Mullan ham it up as skeevy employers of Herc and his band of merry men (and one Amazonian woman), and Rufus Sewell for once hams it up as an un-skeevy type, the best friend and brother-in-arms, even if he cares for gold more than glory sometimes. They’re for-profit mercenaries, trekking the globe in search of bloody deeds to fill for any daring leader willing to pay, so long as the deeds are morally righteous. Hercules’ cousin is the salesman, talking up his brother from another mother to rally the masses behind him, into battle, into the great unknown. Deadwood’s Ian McShane is a rare treat as the seer of the group, a man who has seen his own death and dearly awaits it, providing both comic relief as well as the single best moment of the entire movie: a galvanizing pep talk for the great oaf when he needs it most. The endgame here is a tale of truthiness, a veneer of grit, wit, and the garishly real, or as real as a Hercules movie can be. All of this reaching cannot overcome a general sense of malaise, not to mention Ratner’s unavoidable tendencies toward camp, which undermines said reaching. “Hercules” wants to be the untold story of the son of Zeus, but it’s mired in half-hearted attempts at such, and the simple fact that nearly no one wants a Hercules sans heroic fantasy.  That sounds boring, and it is boring.

Grade: C- 

 

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