Three weeks ago the trailer for Hercules hit the web and the reactions to it were very mixed. Some people were surprised by how good it looked, but others were very vocal about their not so positive opinion. “It sucks,” they screamed, shaking their fist at the computer screen. One of the reasons cited was Hercules‘ infamous director Brett Ratner, the man who in many people’s eyes was for responsible for derailing the X-Men franchise with his X-Men: The Last Stand. Another common complaint was the “This is just another swords and sandals movie” argument, an understandable notion since recently there haven’t been that many fantastic outings of that particular genre. That being said: I’m (cautiously) optimistic myself and think that Hercules could very well be a pleasant surprise for moviegoers. Why? Well, mainly for three reasons.
1. The myth
There have been many attempts at bringing the myth of Hercules to the silver screen, but it’s telling that, so far, Disney’s 1997 animated film Hercules has been one of the best iterations of the character and his labors yet. Many films that have tried to depict the hero and the monsters he faced are dated now, and therefore it’s very hard to take those seriously. And then there are those movies that apparently felt like only using the hero’s well-known name to get audiences in seats while throwing the rest of the story out of the window for no apparent reason, with disastrous results (I’m looking at you, The Legend Of Hercules). While this Hercules is definitely taking liberties with the source material (after all it’s an adaptation of a Radical Comics limited series inspired by the classical myth), it brings a lot of the myth to the screen, and those elements have mythology buffs like me excited: Hercules is being portrayed as a flawed and hopefully well-rounded character and, additionally, the depictions of some of his twelve labors are beautifully realized through stunning special effects and effective art direction. We finally get to see the Nemean Lion, the Lernean Hydra and the Erymanthian Boar in all of their glory, as well as a Hercules who looks brutish, wields his signature club (and occasionally a bow and a sword), wears the skin of a lion, and will grow as a character throughout the film (the original myth is a fascinating character study in addition to a tragic and marvelous tale of heroics and adventure). If done right, Hercules could provide viewers with adventure, theatrics, emotion and thrills, with a gripping story that makes for a compelling and entertaining night at the movies.
2. The actor
The infinitely likeable and physically intimidating Dwayne Johnson seems like the perfect fit for the Greek hero who, in a fit of rage, murdered his family and went on to fulfill twelve labors to expiate his crime. In the film Johnson will portray the hero in various stages of his life, which could potentially show us the full extent of his acting range, which he has shown us to be quite vast, acting in movies ranging from comedies, to action films to even a drama or two. But apart from conveying Hercules’ character, Johnson’s physicality makes him a perfect fit. If there’s a screen incarnation that comes close to the way the mythological man is described in the myth and how he appears on ancient vases and murals, it’s this one: a hulking and bearded figure wearing a lion’s head for a helmet, carrying a club around, not just a demigod by name but a paragon of masculinity. The trailer and first (strangely edited and seemingly modified) movie clip show us a confident Hercules, a man that’s almost akin to the beasts he slays because Johnson brings a raw strength, anger and fearlessness to the character, which almost makes him appear as a force of nature, more like a god than a man. The actor formerly known as The Rock exudes charisma, and has proven it’s very hard to take your eyes of him when he’s up on the screen, and that’s why Johnson will provide his character with a firm center, and by extension the film.
3. The director
This is were we get to the “controversial” part of my column. While Brett Ratner is definitely not one of the great directors who roam the earth, he’s definitely a guy who knows what he’s doing and who has proven himself to be able to tackle different genres. While the Rush Hour films aren’t my cup of tea, there’s very little I can fault the movies with in terms of direction, and the same goes for Red Dragon or even X-Men: The Last Stand. Yes, the third X-Men movie was a disaster, but the main reason for that is undoubtedly the script penned by Simon Kinberg and Zak Penn, which presented us with a story that was all over the place and really wasn’t all that interesting. Ratner did fine with the material he was given and while many fans hated the unfocused The Last Stand, that’s hardly all to blame on him. In this case I don’t think the director deserves all the hate he has been and still is getting: his direction is perfectly serviceable even though it doesn’t do anything to stand out and it isn’t top-tier. Hercules marks a moment for Ratner to have his comeback, to show audiences what he’s capable of with a film that can be an impressive addition to his résumé.
There you have it, that’s why I’m looking forward to this year’s Hercules. Bear in mind that all this is the product of a movie and mythology fan’s wishful thinking. So yes, absolutely, this movie can still suck and be absolutely terrible. However: the three reasons above articulate why I’m holding out hope and I can see it happening that Hercules might actually be an, at the very least, enjoyable movie about one of Greek mythology’s most famous heroes. We’ll know for sure at the end of July though, when the films hits cinemas worldwide.