I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

Hercules

tn_herculesI 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.

mp_herculesAnd 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.

still_hercules
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?

still_hercules2

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.

still_mummyreturns

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.

ratner-buttsBut 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.

* * *

viewed in 2D because it’s post-converted, though admittedly the 3D looked pretty good in the trailer

acr_hercules2014

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.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 at 12:50 pm and is filed under Action, Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

31 Responses to “Hercules”

  1. Rockules? Damn I wish I thought of that one.

    And forget the bare ass, Ratner got a fully exposed tit in this pg-13 movie. THAT was surprising.

    And I saw it in a packed theater because it was the one and only 2D showing of the day, and most of the audience was cracking up at all the jokey jokes in the movie. Especially at the Ian McShane stuff.

  2. But will Ratner’s Wu-Tang “Triumph” cinematographer Joseph Kahn get the Power Rangers job? Kahn was considered for Transformers before Bay, and Torque could have easily had some robots in it that I missed.

  3. Fucking Centaurs.

    I just saw this a few hours ago, and I agree it’s a lot of fun. It’s a throwback fantasy action movie with a surprisingly good cast (who all seem to be up for it. I particularly liked how SPOILER didn’t mind hamming it up a bit later with lines like “KILL THE FILTHY BASTARD!”.
    McShane’s a highlight. I love how he’s practically bragging about how he’s supposedly going to die at one point(“Have you ever heard of a more insane death?”), and his reaction after the arrows fail to do him in.

    “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.”
    But they had that scene with all the heads on spikes, with Tydius licking the blood from one, the long shots of dead bodies, including those of children, some of the stuff in the flashbacks to his family, including a sack full of severed heads. It was surprisingly graphic for a PG-13 movie, I felt.

    “And forget the bare ass, Ratner got a fully exposed tit in this pg-13 movie. THAT was surprising.”
    Where? Or do you mean The Rock’s? Those don’t count. I did notice though that the actress playing Herc’s mother (who is white? Okay…) was almost spilling out her dress in that baby crib scene and the material of her dress wasn’t entirely solid. Is that what you mean?

    Brad Jones said in his midnight review that the 3D was surprisingly good, by the way.

  4. Oh and I did notice that thing with the Pecs on the armour, but I just found it a little odd.
    If there’s one thing that I’d criticise it for, it’s how rushed a kinda important subplot of the movie is, with a certain actor having 3 scenes total in the movie, all pretty short ones, but all supposed to be contribute to a major part of the story.

  5. Labor nine was to get the belt of Hippolyta (queen of the amazons), which everyone thought he would do by fighting his way in and killing everyone, but actually he just showed up and was awesome and asked nicely for it. She would have given it to him, except the other amazons freaked out and started a fight.

  6. Dikembe Mutombo

    July 29th, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Damn you’re making me reconsider seeing this Vern. I’m not a Ratner hater by any means, RUSH HOUR 2 was one of the most enjoyable times I’ve had in a theater, but this just looked so dang generic. The ads don’t even bother trying to sell you on the story or characters or anything. It’s gonna be hard to rouse myself to do anything other than redbox it unless someone tells me they really loved it.

  7. It’s impossible to make a really good movie about Hercules. Trust me, I know.

  8. Oh my god, guys, I think Telf is Hercules.

    One of the reasons I don’t like Brett Ratner is captured perfectly in photographic form above.

  9. is the PG-13 naked butt male or female? because judging by the Big Butt Book I would assume it’s female

  10. The trailer shows a curvaceous female absconding from a wading pool with a see-through netted skirt-type thing around her waist. Not that I noticed or anything.

  11. that’s our Ratner! lover of butts!

  12. MaggieMayPie – I was young and needed the money (and ridicule).

    I think Brett is just reading the (actually quite moving) foreword by Sir Mixalot.

  13. That Kevin Sorbo beef is even sadder when you think about the fact that Renny Harlin also made a Hercules movie this year, and Sorbo didn’t have a cameo in that movie either. (I’m actually just assuming he didn’t have a cameo. I never saw the movie, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet nevertheless.)

  14. Good movie. Lot of open jugulars and penetrated torsos.

    Lionhead-hats off to Ratner for using real human beings for most of the combat footage, though the CG stuff is there too (and it’s excellent too).

    LUCY and my beloved 300: RISE OF AN EMPIRE (similar-ish films) are a little better and arguably more ambitious,
    but I was glad to give HERCULES my money this weekend and I’m sad more people didn’t do the same.

  15. “I think Brett is just reading the (actually quite moving) foreword by Sir Mixalot.”

    I know this is probably a joke, but(t) is there really a foreword by him in that book? I have contemplated buying that book for “research” purposes

  16. I dunno, I kind of wish Renny would have gotten the chance at doing this one with The Rock. His track record’s been on a downward slide for like a decade, but I can’t help but wonder if he could have brought something a little more to this. I don’t really have a huge beef with Ratner’s movies outside of most of them being engineered for maximum forgetability, really, and this is just more of the same. Well, except for The Rock punching a horse and wearing a lion on his head. I’ll remember that.

  17. Aw man, the Sorbo. I’ve heard so many things about him being an absolutely nice guy, but then he also has this weird Republican thing going on (Although admittedly he doesn’t seem to agree with most of their more bizarre agendas. But he still seems to be pretty much of a hardliner at times.) and seems to be VERY bitter about his career, culminating in stuff like the cameo thing or him dissing Sam Raimi, for not casting him in the Spider-Man movies.

    But honestly, I wish he would be a bigger star either. Or at least star in another TV show. I think he could handle the current “Golgen age of Television” and do well enough in some high profile pay TV show.

  18. I don’t really want to, but I feel I have to mention that there are actually three Norwegian actors in this. In addition to Bolsø Berdal as Atalanta and Hennie as Tydeus, we have Tobias Santelmann (KON-TIKI, ESCAPE) as Rhesus.

  19. I think Sorbo’s reaction to his non-cameo is a little extreme, but I thought he did a fine job on the 90s Hercules show. He had a sort of “aw, shucks” heroism about him that really worked for the show’s tone. Still, Xena was the better series by far.

    I’ve heard that this Rockules movie didn’t bomb as much as people thought it would, but it was still outdone by that Lucy movie. If people went to see Rockules, then the film producer have The Rock to thank, because those ads were really generic. I didn’t realize this was supposed to be a kind of fractured fairy tales version of the Hercules story until I read a review or two. I wonder why they hid this information in the previews, and I wonder if the movie would have done better or worse numbers if they had promoted the film more honestly.

  20. The movie felt like a big budget version of the TV Series (And i mean it in a good way). Only with no Gods or Monsters in it.

  21. I love Money Talks, and I guess After The Sunset is my Xmen 3.

    I know Brett Ratner for a long time wanted to make a Conan film and a God of War film. Thank god he didn’t direct a God of War film, because that really needs to be R rated, and keep it’s nihilstic tone, but of course that film would cost a lot of money, so they never could make it R rated. So they better leave that alone.

    I guess Hercules is what a Ratner Conan film would look like. There is that.

  22. yeah, a GOD OF WAR movie would be awesome in theory, but it could never actually work

    I doubt it’ll happen anyway, I haven’t heard anything about a movie based on that in years

  23. Also I am never that guy that likes to point out corrections but I thought this was fascinating and worth noting: The Rock didn’t actually grow that beard. Apparently it was fabricated out of yak pubes. So, even more impressing than growing it, in my opinion.

  24. I’m surprised as many of you liked this. I would put HERCULES on the level of THE INCREDIBLE HULK. Not bad, not good, just….there.

    The highlight for me was Ian McShane’s category. Openly embracing death, but all those arrows miss him and he shrugs. Maybe next time. He is waiting for an arrow to kill him, Johnson saves him and McShane acts like Johnson was the asshole in that situation.

    (I don’t know about you folks but HERCULES is another vehicle that wastes a living breathing action figure like Johnson and fails to basically support him as star vehicles are supposed to do. Johnson is the sort of guy that when a movie scene has him flipping a horse over his back, dammit I want to believe he did that for real and without help from computers or stuntmen. What is it about these damn movies that aren’t FAST & THE FURIOUS films that just don’t know how to maximize this movie star material behind that million dollar smile and biceps biger than my head?)

    Also I’m surprised we’re still surprised about seeing tits in a PG-13 film after TITANIC. Yes its pretty rare, but it does happen.

    Speaking of which, who saw Renny Harlin’s LEGEND OF HERCULES earlier this year? Still still my pick for worst film I’ve seen in theaters this year. Jesus what a loser that one was in just about every category. (Scott Adkins has diplomatic immunity however, as the ass-kicking ambassador from DTV Land that visited this $70+ million production.)

  25. One Guy From Andromeda

    July 31st, 2014 at 3:24 am

    It’s even worse than 302? I’ll catch it sometime in 2017…
    I got a theory on his weird chest armor though: it makes him look even more like a giant that the stuff that makes the other hollywood guys look more buff is simply no match for what’s really there with the Rock.

  26. Brandon L. Summers

    July 31st, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Hi. I reviewed “Hercules” for our town’s local entertainment publication, and I thought it wasn’t bad. For me, it was very simple. But I imagine for 14 year olds – who have never heard the line “One more paycheck, that’s all I need” – it was thrilling. Johnson is great, especially in the dramatic parts, showing the character’s anguish. It’s very rewarding when Hercules realizes he is the legend and becomes the revered hero. And Ratner’s direction is excellent, the film looks great. I’ve always considered him a selfless director. This really is that fun movie everyone keeps whining about not existing anymore. Thank you, Vern.

  27. “Also I’m surprised we’re still surprised about seeing tits in a PG-13 film after TITANIC. Yes its pretty rare, but it does happen.”

    why? these days I’m surprised if I see tits in an R rated movie, it’s a small miracle Ratner got any nudity at all in a PG-13 movie, must be his love of the Big Butt Book

  28. Sometimes I wonder if it is even possible for the rock the get the action vehicle he deserves.
    Meh movie. Did not do much for me at all.

    I dont know if it’s the rock’s own (mediocre) taste in scripts that is holding him back or that he can’t connect with more artsy directors or something.
    He does seem like a very social guy so that might perhaps influence
    His decisions as well.
    I can see him getting along with a guy like Brett at a random premiere
    And be all like “brett we should do a movie together!”

    It probably won’t be any of the reasons above but I just root for the rock to achieve maximum glory!

  29. Just saw it. Odd movie, but I enjoyed it for what it was.

    I say odd because, as much as I guess it’s interesting to play with the idea of his legend and demi-deity-status, it seems like the film pretty much admits to us that all the supernatural stuff is just much more awesome than some generic battles and meta-mythological-chicanery. The glimpses of Centaurs were kind of great, but then the movie’s all like (SPOILER) nah Centaurs aren’t real dummy. Why’d you come to a Hercules movie looking for Centaurs? Psyche.

    I liked what they did fine – but I know I would have loved seeing Dwayne just do the 12 labours with all the modern effects wizardry. The flashbacks to the “myths” of Hercules looked great – so perverse to build a movie that basically says “isn’t this great? Yeah! Let’s do something else!”

    That said, it’s EASILY the best Hercules movie ever.

  30. Now that it’s at the Redbox, I’m actually a little sad I didn’t see this in the theatres in 3D – there’s so many corny “Comin at Ya!” style 3D gags, and tons of moments that would surely bring down the house – it’s a real crowd-pleasing movie – tons of well-shot, long-take action, an interesting story, likable characters, and it’s only 90 minutes to boot! And I had no idea it would be this funny – the trailers made it look dark and gritty and uninteresting, and even though there’s alot of serious moments, I’d argue this is a successor to goofy flicks like Buckaroo Banzai and Big Trouble in Little China – just watch Joseph Fiennes ridiculous performance and Ian McShane’s hilariously literal “you too can achieve anything if you believe in yourself!” closing monologue. These guys know what they’re doing.

    I think I’ve complained here that we haven’t had enough memorable badass ensembles recently – every one of us can name every character in Predator, Alien, or Aliens, but so many movies have tried and failed to re-create the same magic since (The Expendables failed even with established actors we love, and I dare anyone to tell me one thing about anyone from AVP:R). This movie easily comes closest – Hercules’ crew is fun and likable and distinct, and even if I can’t name them all, I liked them more than anyone in the damn LOTR movies. The lone female is badass and hot without being overtly sexualized (Ratner deserves more credit than he gets), and it’s refreshing her backstory doesn’t involve being in love with a dude in any way (one of the few missteps about Emily Blount’s character in Edge of Tomorrow I thought). McShane is awesome, I liked the silent Groot-like guy more than Groot, and who knew Rufus Sewell would have his best role (and performance) in ages as The Rock’s sidekick? Sure, I figured he would be the villain just from seeing his name in the cast, but he’s refreshing and kind of hilarious as the blatantly Han Solo-esque buddy.

    Even though I’m not a fan of those “cartoon drawing re-creating scenes from the movie” things during the end credits, I have to admit I loved the one here – showing the truth behind the 12 Labours, with the team hiding in the shadows helping Herc take down the lion and the boar, etc…brought a smile to my face. It’s the old “sidekicks are the real badasses behind the hero” theme from Without a Clue or Green Hornet or Lone Ranger, but here the hero is the biggest badass of them all. I’m actually a little sad this bombed now, because I totally want more sequels with these guys.

  31. I just watched this as part of a personal HERCULES weekend and I was surprised how entertaining it was. (And how violent it was for a PG-13 movie, but then I found out the version I recorded from pay TV was the unrated one.) This isn’t some misunderstood masterpiece and I won’t spend the rest of the year with telling everybody to watch it, but the story wasn’t insultingly stupid, the “realistic” approach to the legend worked much better than expected and the crew around Hercules was seriously likeable. If this would have been a TV pilot, I would totally tune in again next week.

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