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Dwayne Johnson Bulks Up for Nothing in 'Hercules'

One day, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will land a role in a film that’s fitting of his charisma, physique, and on-screen likability, but Hercules is not that film.


Hercules

Director: Brett Ratner
Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, Rebecca Ferguson, John Hurt
Distributor: Paramount
Rated: PG-13
US DVD Release date: 2014-11-04

One day, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will land a role in a film that’s fitting of his charisma, physique, and on-screen likability, but Hercules is not that film. Not by any stretch of the imagination. When someone early in the film exclaims, “What a load of crap!” after hearing an amazing tale about Hercules’ adventures, you can’t help but wonder if that same exclamation is also a fitting description of the film you’re about to watch.

Brett Ratner, the director who gave us the worst X-Men movie (X-Men: The Last Stand) and the Rush Hour series, attempts to present an exciting, fresh take on Hercules in his latest film. Unfortunately, he fails like you might expect a director of his caliber to do.

There are striking visuals, ample battle scenes and an impressive assortment of actors, but it doesn’t add up to anything meaningful. Ratner wisely chose Steve Moore’s Radical Comics series Hercules: The Thracian Wars for inspiration, but he made enough dumb choices to waste the inventive source material. Glimpses of his -- I’ll say it -- herculean efforts are there, but, mostly, the filmmakers blew it. The script from Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos does borrow elements of the comic’s revisionist take on Hercules, but it leaves the most controversial and interesting bits out.

The film’s generic narrative follows Hercules and his quirky group of mercenary friends, characters so unidimensional the only thing separating one from the other is their choice of weapon and the fact that one also happens to be a woman. In every way, Hercules feels like the average, run-of-the-mill PG-13 summer blockbuster: thoroughly entertaining and entirely forgettable.

What we get is a myth-busting story that shows audiences how Hercules’ fabled superhuman acts of heroism were perhaps ruses and over-exaggerated tales spread by word of mouth. Hercules and his fellow gold-loving warriors-for-hire are employed by Princess Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) to help her father King Cotys (John Hurt) defeat the evil sorcerer Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), though things don’t exactly go as planned. Meanwhile, the main characters manage to shout intelligent things like, “Don’t just stand there. Kill someone!”

The stellar cast members (including Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, and the incomparable Ian McShane) seem uncertain about the tone of the motion picture they’re creating, leaving their performances especially tongue-in-cheek.

Hercules spends a great deal of its runtime debating whether the muscle-bound hero is actually the son of Zeus or merely a dangerous guy who’s spread plenty of demigod rumors. But grounding the storyline deeply in reality seems like a waste when Johnson is physically overqualified to play anything other than a mythical god-like hero. As Hercules, Johnson shows off his brawn just like strongmen Steve Reeves, Lou Ferrigno, and even Kevin Sorbo have done before him, but the leading man hardly gets to show off his humor, charm, or acting chops.

In spite of Johnson’s commanding presence, McShane manages to steal every scene he’s in with his portrayal of Amphiaraus. He brings remarkable conviction to his role as an aging warrior priest who frequently (and incorrectly) predicts his own demise. His scenes are dark comedy gold, interjecting some much-needed humor into the film.

All in all, by the time the credits roll, you’ll realize Ratner’s movie might be the best version of Hercules ever filmed, but that’s only because none of them have been especially memorable.

The Blu-ray edition of Hercules includes an audio commentary from Ratner and producer Beau Flynn. There are also quite a few interesting featurettes about the supporting characters, special effects, and weapons, as well as a collection of mediocre deleted scenes. Most strangely absent is a featurette about Johnson’s much publicized “12 labors diet”, the absurdly intense training and meal plan that the actor already known as the Rock used to make himself even bulkier for the title role.

Even so, since Hercules is more of a disappointing film than a downright bad one, it’s unfortunate that its bonus features are sometimes more rousing than the movie itself.

5

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