A couple of weeks ago, among the rush of summer movies, I watched Brett Ratner’s Hercules, starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The film is based on the comic book Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore and Chris Bolsin. The story follows Hercules — famous for completing his twelve labours and supposedly a demigod son of Zeus — and his mercenary comrades who are hired by Lord Cotys to train the armies of Thrace to defend the kingdom from the bloodthirsty warlord Rheseus.
Prior to watching the film, I did not realize that it was based on a comic book, so I was going into it assuming that it was more simply an adaptation of the classical Hercules mythology. Shortly into the film I came to the realization that the Hercules movie I really want to see probably isn’t ever going to get made. What I would personally want to see is a film made as faithful to the source material as possible, with all of the hardcore aspects that often get left out.
For instance, I would want it to boldly go forward with the fact that, through a madness induced by Hera, Hercules murdered his wife Megara and their children, the resulting blood-guilt being the reason he must struggle through his labours to atone for his actions.
Ratner’s Hercules looked promising from its trailers. What they primarily showed were clips of Hercules battling beasts from his labours, interspersed with some battle scenes. It looked like the plot would involve him going through his labours. They had the look down as well, for the first time in a big budget film I’ve been aware of, equipping him with the skin of the Nemean lion and his signature club. The trailers I saw did not appear to feature any of his comrades either, making it appear to be a more solo endeavour.
I was disappointed by those aspects falling short alone, but I understand that my desire from a Hercules movie is very specific, so I didn’t hold that against the film. As a matter of fact, I did not think the film was all that bad. I know it is fashionable to dislike Bret Ratner and his movies, but regardless of distasteful conduct in his past or disservices he has done to a beloved franchise, I feel he did a decent job with Hercules.
Though by now this kind of trope is common, the approach of blurring the lines between fiction and reality with the exploits of Hercules was an interesting way to depict the character. This was most notable for me because while it is up for debate how many monsters he slew single-handedly or whether he is truly the son of a god, he is still clearly a larger than life figure. We see him take on three monstrous dogs all on his own, catch and flip a horse with his bare hands, and break binds no ordinary man could. Instead of his exploits simply being made up for the sake of notoriety, there is a legitimacy to him that helped create a mystique around the character. I enjoyed the idea of a truly phenomenal person still using embellishment to appear more extraordinary than they are.
Dwayne Johnson did a convincing job portraying the classical hero, in both physical stature and the way he is generally perceived in the mind’s eye of general audiences, a paragon of strength and determination — a classic hero. Hercules’ comrades turned out to more interesting than I had expected as well. They were amusing, memorable, and attention felt shared between all of them pretty equally. I never felt like the movie was wasting my time by dwelling too much on one supporting character.
I particularly liked Atalanta, who could have been just another obnoxious representation of the “action girl” trope, but instead felt like an equal part of an extremely competent unit. I wasn’t a huge fan of how each member of the group seemed haphazardly ripped from other Greek myths with little regard for the source material — such as Atalanta, one of the only female classical heroes — but it didn’t interfere with the movie as a work on its own.
The plot is pretty basic and predictable, with obvious twists and turns throughout, but it never took me out of the experience. It was a fairly typical summer action film, but unlike films such as Transformers: Age of Extinction, I did not find myself bored or frustrated at any point while watching the movie. As I phrased it to a friend of mine afterwards, Hercules was schlock, but it was good schlock. It also scores bonus points for not trying to sneak in a contrived romance subplot.
If you’ve got even a passing interest in mythology and enjoy a good action movie, I would recommend watching Hercules. It’s fun and inoffensive. You would be perfectly justified, however, it waiting for it to come on Netflix. It’s a good time, but not a must-see for the theatre.