Any other summer, Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules would be dismissed as a B-movie that should bypass theaters for a direct-to-VOD release.
But this summer? Well, this summer, Hercules is one of the more entertaining movies in months. Sure, it’s clunky in parts and silly in others, but by and large, it gets the job done. Johnson’s on-screen presence alone overcomes most of director Brett Ratner’s shortfalls, and the result is a better-than-average swords-‘n-sandals flick. It will of course be forgotten in a matter of weeks (if not days) but in the short run, it’s certainly a plus to sit in a theater and not want to throw a shoe at the screen.
Set in the time after Hercules completed his twelve labors (we see a handful of them in a brief flashback), the movie opens by introducing us to the Greek hero’s wild bunch. Among them are the wise-cracking Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), the man-imal Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), and the take-no-crap Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal). Also along for the ride is a scene-stealing Ian McShane as a Amphiaraus, a droll psychic.
The gang takes a commission from a Thracian princess (Rebecca Ferguson) whose kingdom is under threat from attackers led by Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann). The king (John Hurt) hands the reins of his army over to Hercules, and, after only a few days of training, they head out for what should have been their quick death at the hands of some rather nasty barbarians. Hercules, though, wins the day, setting the stage for the final battle against Rhesus.
Based on Steve Moore’s 2008 graphic novel, Hercules‘ fairly pedestrian script was written by first-timer Ryan Condal and by Evan Spiliotopoulos, whose last writing credit (oddly enough) was 2009’s Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure. The screenplay is serviceable enough; McShane and Sewell get most of the good lines, leaving Johnson forced to rely primarily on his charisma, which fortunately drips out of him easier than sweat. There are a couple decent twists and turns along the way, too, which help.
I’m not sure where Ratner’s $100 million budget went, though. The fight sequences are entertaining, but nothing quite on that scale, and there’s more than one occasion during which the CGI is amateur and conspicuous.
No, Hercules is not as stylized and visual as 300 or as nuanced and smart as Gladiator, but in this summer of dreck, it may just emerge as a half-way decent success, assuming people haven’t given up on movies altogether by this point.