I don’t know what you people are thinking not wanting to see a new Hercules movie starring Dwayne T.R. Johnson. The motherfucker grew a beard and wore a lion on his head and somehow increased his workout from what it was before, and yet the world acts like there’s nothing to see here. Here we have a movie star who we have all anointed an icon, an actor who combines the charm of George Clooney with the cartoonish physicality of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has entertained us many times but who still hasn’t quite found that great movie vehicle he deserves. And he has decided to use his impossibly giant muscles to lift up the sorely missed genre of the macho sword and sandal b-movie. Just on principle people like us should be taking time off work to see this thing, but all my friends, people I work alongside, who I admire and respect, just respond to the existence of HERCULES with a “ho hum” or a “ha ha.”
Yeah, I know the reason. With everything going on in Gaza right now, and in Russia and the Ukraine, it’s hard to really put our minds on something so trivial nah just fucking with you it’s because this was directed by Brett Ratner.
Personally I was never invested in the case of Citizens v. Ratner. In fact I often end up defending him because of my love of MONEY TALKS and my actually liking X-MEN 3. He’s clearly not a visionary, but he’s a workman who has done a handful of movies that I enjoy. And I saw SNITCH, I saw FASTER, I saw WALKING TALL. Those weren’t made by known geniuses either – Ratner’s a big step up from at least one of them – but they were worth my time in my opinion. And I saw PAIN AND/OR GAIN and liked many aspects of it! Eventually Johnson’s gotta hook up with a great director, but until then the smell of what the Rock is cooking is apparently more pungent than the smell of the auteur theory.
And fine, I will concede that HERCULES is only pretty good too. It is not the one we’ve been waiting for. But you’re still missing out. How you gonna watch The Rock on your laptop? If you see him on a giant screen he’s almost life size! And you gotta see him with an audience. Admittedly, I was surprised there was an audience. I feel like usually when I see a movie like this (the remake of CONAN THE BARBARIAN with Jason Mamoa comes to mind) there are like five people there. This time it was fairly crowded, with a couple rows of kids, and everybody seemed to enjoy it. I love DTV action but I miss that feeling of a crowd coming to cheer on their favorite screen warriors. Smash ’em for us, Rockules!
Okay, so what’s their angle on this one? How does this version of Hercules go bananas? It’s kinda weird actually. It seems like the premise is supposed to be “the stripped down, realistic Hercules,” except of course that would be stupid and that’s not really what it is. The trailer showed a bunch of cool scenes of Hercules killing giant digital monsters (a three-headed hydra, a one-headed lion, a giant boar that crashes into a tree in slow motion as Hercules does parkour up the tree). These are all from the first scene, flashes of Hercules’s legendary 12 Labours. Which, we then find out, are bullshit. He’s not the son of Zeus. He’s kind of a phony. He says he just lets people tell exaggerated stories because it scares his enemies, but it’s not like it’s an accident. He even has a nephew in his crew whose entire job is to tell fake stories about how awesome he is. The minister of propaganda.
Here’s the thing: he is super-awesome. He’s just not magic-awesome. We see him k.o. a 9-foot tall savage with one pop. We see him take out five guys with a single swing of his club. We see him (spoiler for best part of movie) do a wrestling move on a horse. We see him catch a burning spear in the air and throw it back into the guy that threw it. When he hits people, whether with a fist or a weapon, they usually fly 10 feet into the air. He picks up dudes by their heads and just tosses them or smashes their skulls through stone.
See, I think the premise is that Hercules really is god-like, he’s just not literally a god. People believe he has magic powers just because he has powers that are equal to that of magic powers but are not created by magic. Just by him being born awesome. Genetics.
They do believe in magic, though. Ian McShane’s character is supposedly clairvoyant. They got no problem with that. And the crowd I saw it with thought his character was hilarious. He believes he knows when he’s gonna die so he fights with abandon and enjoys life.
Because of his awesomeness in battle Hercules becomes a mercenary. But then he gets tricked into helping with something bad and he gets a case of the morals.
I mentioned he has a posse with him. This is kind of cool because they have different specialties and stuff. The standout is definitely the Amazon, Atalanta, played by the Norwegian actress
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal. I thought I recognized her, turns out it’s because she was the star of COLD PREY and COLD PREY 2. So she graduates from Final Girl to Warrior Princess, firing off dozens of arrows, cartwheeling through armies, kicking and chopping dudes up, and looking really cool doing it.
Then there’s the bestial Tydius (Aksel Hennie, MAX MANUS), who has an interesting backstory that requires him to be chained by the neck when he sleeps. I wish he got to bite somebody’s neck open, but he does do a couple good animalistic deeds.
The problem with having a team like this, though, is it takes us away from Hercules. All that punching and knocking people off their horses and shit, that’s the best part of the movie by far, but there’s not enough of it. Too much time is needed to keep up with what the other characters are doing. I know this comes from the comic book that it’s based on, but relegating the larger-than-life hero to the fairly mundane task of training an army is not the best idea.
There are parts where he has to break things or lift things that a regular non-Hercules type of man could not handle. I heard the chains were real and Johnson pulled on them so hard he passed out. I wonder if he studied the World’s Strongest Man competition too? At any rate it’s funny to see a movie in 2014 where the big challenge for the hero is to tip over a big heavy thing. Kinda quaint. I like it.
This is a weird question but did anybody else have a problem with the Rock’s muscle-shaped chest armor? It’s probly just me but I could not stop being distracted by the pecs being much smaller than the Rock’s actual pecs and also placed over his collar bone area. Is that why you guys hate Ratner so much? Anatomically incorrect costume choices?
By the way, about these 12 Labours. It’s interesting that there are 12 installments of Hercules adventures. Like he’s the original pulp hero or James Bond. But why do they all gotta be, like, “slay the lion” or “capture the cerberus” or whatever. Why can’t one of them be to give somebody a nice compliment and make them smile or something like that. Why you always gotta be killing someone, why don’t you try loving someone?
That last sentence was a quote from MONEY TALKS, still my favorite Brett Ratner joint. Copyright Brett Ratner 1997.
Anyway to be fair the fifth Labour of Hercules was to clean the Augean stables in a single day, that’s a non-violent one, though not one of the more popular episodes. They thought he couldn’t do it because the cattle were immortal and the thing hadn’t been cleaned in 30 years. But he’s Hercules so he fucking pulled it off like a champ.
I want to note that including FREDDY VS. JASON and the Platinum Dunes FRIDAY THE 13TH remake there are currently 12 Labours of Jason Voorhees as well. And part five is A NEW BEGINNING which is the one where the series kind of lost its way, and also at the end it turns out it’s a copycat killer and it’s pretty disappointing. So it’s the horror equivalent of having a whole Labour about cleaning up magic cow shit.
Jason = Hercules. Wait… Jason vs. Hercules? Think about it, Hollywood.
This is another tangent: I saw this news story linked on IMDb about Kevin Sorbo (from the ’90s syndicated TV hit Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) being mad that he didn’t have a cameo. I clicked on it thinking it would be some exaggerated bullshit, but then it actually had a quote from him saying that he had his people approach them about a cameo and he was really insulted that they weren’t interested. The whole thing made me very sad. I would’ve smiled if he showed up in there but Hercules has been around for a long time there, it’s kinda presumptuous to act like you’re the definitive version. Arnold and Ferrigno don’t have cameos either. Nor does Disney’s Hercules, who is probly the most identifiable Hercules to the target audience of this movie. To make matters worse, the photo accompanying IMDb’s clipping was not of Sorbo, it was of his better-remembered co-star Lucy Lawless.
I wasn’t gonna bring any of this up except it just occurred to me that Sorbo starred in the DTV sequels to The Rock’s remake of WALKING TALL. So they actually do have a connection. He probly shoulda got the cameo just for that reason. And Arnold Vosloo should be in TAKEN 3.
I was hoping this would be kinda like THE SCORPION KING but with a beard. The tone is not drastically different but it’s not as consistently energetic and fun. It does open kinda the same way (a relative of the Rock’s character is tied up and telling a bunch of warriors how badass he is for a while before he shows up and kicks all their asses) and I choose to interpret the end credits (crude pre-viz type computer animation of some of the action highlights) as an homage to the character’s legendarily shitty cgi monster form in THE MUMMY RETURNS.
Also, that thing I mentioned where he catches the spear is reminiscent of my favorite move he does in THE SCORPION KING, pulling an arrow out of himself and firing it back where it came from. An effort was definitely made to recapture that spirit. At least this comes closer to the magic than the official SCORPION KING prequels.
But actually, coming out this year it was a much bigger problem that I was holding HERCULES to the standard of the sadly slept on sepremidquel 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE. That movie was just so much more cleverly constructed and more consistently outrageous, with far better visuals. And this, I’m afraid, is PG-13. Hats off to Ratner for getting a naked butt into a PG-13 like it’s the ’80s again, but still. Movies that star musclemen living in barbaric times can always use a high number of severed heads and limbs, and those are sorely lacking here.
RISE OF AN EMPIRE also had much more exciting action sequences, but HERCULES does okay. The most impressive aspect of the action filmatistically is that more than once Ratner has a clear overhead shot of the battle so that you can see exactly where everybody is standing in relation to each other.
The score by Fernando Velazquez (THE ORPHANGE, MAMA) is effective but generic adventure music. But I swear there was one scene early on where the music sounded more like Ratner’s probly-retired-now composer of choice Lalo Schifrin. That would be pretty cool if this whole thing just sounded like ENTER THE DRAGON.
Anyway, the quest for a Dwayne Johnson vehicle as good as Schwarzenegger’s A-material continues. But this is way better than COLLATERAL DAMAGE or something. I’m not givin up hope.
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viewed in 2D because it’s post-converted, though admittedly the 3D looked pretty good in the trailer
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.