1 hours, 30 minutes
Years ago I saw “The Scorpion King” starring a charismatic wrestler known as The Rock. I remember telling my wife that the movie was terrible, but the wrestler was, surprisingly, not bad. Since then, The Rock, or Dwayne Johnson, as he came to be known, has made a career out of improving mediocre films with his winning personality and incredibly charismatic performances. He is a good actor, if not necessarily a great one, but he tends to boost the quality of just about any project he’s associated with. Until now.
“Hercules” is not a good movie, but for the first time in years, Johnson’s performance is part of the problem instead of the solution. I hate to say it because he honestly has very little to work with in terms of script, but where he can usually turn lemons into lemonade, this time around it just stays sour.
The film opens with some expository narration from Iolaus, Hercules’ nephew and traveling press agent. Born of a union between Zeus and a mortal woman, Hercules is a demigod who has traveled the world doing great deeds. In an effort to appease the goddess Hera, Zeus’ wife, who hates Hercules for obvious reasons, our hero agrees to take on twelve labors, miraculous feats of strength and courage that could only be accomplished by a superhuman. He fights monsters, performs amazing feats, and before long his legend grows longer than the lustrous locks that adorn Johnson’s normally bald head. Now, Hercules is an agent for hire, willing to right injustice for a price. Iolaus enthusiastically spins these tales before each battle in hopes of dissuading the evil-doers to fight. When the inevitable battle does come, however, it’s more than intimidation and Hercules’ admittedly impressive strength that wins the day.
At our hero’s side are four trained killers of impressive and varied skills who do the lion’s share of the fighting. Before too long we come to the realization that maybe the whole legend of Hercules is really just a lot of hot air used to drum up business. The “is he / isn’t he” theme runs weakly through the production, before falling apart near the end. Hercules, struggling with his own secret past, will have to put his own reputation to the test when Lord Cotys of Thrace calls upon our hero and his merry band to rid him of a killer plaguing the people and raising an army.
The movie I was most reminded of watching “Hercules” was 2004’s “King Arthur” starring Clive Owen and Kiera Knightly and directed by Antoine Fuqua. “Arthur,” a good if not great movie, purported to show the “true” story of Camelot and the Arthurian knights, casting them as Roman subjects running around England in the 4th or 5th century. Though this movie makes no claims to the veracity of the story of Hercules, the vibe is the same. The difference, however, is that “Arthur” was better written and better directed.
“Hercules” has an abysmal script and Johnson drowns in its senseless flip-flop from stilted “period” dialogue to wisecracking modern patois. Much of the structure is the same, however. We have the mercenary band, each with a special skill. There’s the gregarious but greedy second-in-command, the zany, inscrutable one with the funny gadgets, and the one with a scary propensity for violence. And then, of course, there’s the girl, even more kick-ass than the guys, beautiful and sexy, though almost never sexualized, and expert with a bow, if you hadn’t already guessed. That’s part of the big problem with “Hercules:” it’s completely predictable and completely unoriginal for most of its 90-minute runtime, stealing willy-nilly from other, better movies. When it does finally try for an unexpected twist near the end, the result is ham-handed and, frankly, leaves the audience confused.
For a simple, turn-off-your-brain action movie, you could do worse than “Hercules,” though you could certainly do better. The violence is pretty extreme, at times, pushing the bounds of a PG-13 rated movie, although boundary pushing is not a way I’d describe the movie as a whole. Nothing about it feels like anything but slick, manufactured entertainment with very little though given to logic or believability. Johnson is joined by impressive actors like Joseph Fiennes, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, and your go-to guy for wizened British patriarchs, John Hurt, who already appeared in “Snowpiercer” just last week. God love him, Hurt will do just about any movie that comes down the pike. None of this talent helps the fact, however, that the script for the movie is pure junk.
Even The Rock couldn’t save this dud. That would be a feat even a demigod couldn’t manage.
“Hercules” is rated PG-13 for bloody violence, partial nudity, and language.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.