Hercules is an adaptation of the Radical Comics series which, in turn, is based on the tales from classical Greek mythology and, right from the word go, the movie surprises you with its approach to the hero. This Hercules is a much sought-after mercenary because of the legends that surround him, a man who has completed his twelve labors and now comes to the aid of the king of Thrace for gold. It’s quite a deviation from the original version of the character, but it’s one that, for this film, works very well: Dwayne Johnson lends an incredible likeability and charm to this flawed and troubled character, which makes Hercules‘ main character a very relatable one despite his size and the stories people tell about him. What also really helps to ground Johnson’s Hercules is the company he keeps; contrary to what you might expect Hercules is an ensemble picture and the dynamics between the titular hero and his trusted friends which gives the movie a lot of heart.
Hercules has put a fine ensemble cast together, which is incredibly instrumental to a film that relies this much on the bond between its central cast of characters. The actors who portray Hercules friends all bring a very different energy to their respective parts, but they each have on thing in common: they bounce off each other very well. Because of it Hercules never becomes the Dwayne Johnson show, something that’s another welcome surprise for a movie that, for its marketing, has relied heavily on the star power of the man formerly known as The Rock. It’s true that Johnson exudes a lot of warmth, oozes charisma, but his interactions with the rest of the cast really allow him to shine and show off the many different sides of his character. Because of it this Hercules is vulnerable at times, a human like any of us, and it grants this larger-than-life character a very down-to-earth quality. His friends, portrayed by Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Aksel Hennie and Reece Ritchie, carry the film just as much as Johnson does and they each have their own scene-stealing moments. The fact that, additionally, Hercules is quite a funny film, only helps to strengthen the amiable quality of the characters and the familial relationship these people have with each other, which really is the core ingredient of the movie.
These characters and actors unfortunately can’t help it that Hercules is a flawed film. Its biggest problem is that the movie is very forgettable because, its clever hook aside, the narrative fails to be anything more than predictable and the action itself isn’t all that impressive or impactful. It’s this combination that makes the film drag at times despite its likeable performers and the, for the most part, wonderfully realized sets. The scale of it is never quite as big as you want it to be, the fights are never as imaginatively choreographed as you’d hope, and because of the unique hook to its story you might be disappointed you don’t see more of Hercules’ wondrous twelve labors. It’s unfortunate: Dwayne Johnson’s Hercules is truly magnificent to behold, a dead ringer for how the hero was depicted on amphorae and the like in Ancient Greece. While it’s certainly satisfying to see Hercules wield his massive club and dish out damage on the battlefield, the scenarios and the way in which the action is framed fail to make it feel epic or, indeed, like the stuff of legends. What you’re left with is what you’ve seen done a million times before and seen done better quite a few of those times. Berdal’s archer Atalanta, for example, tries to “Legolas” her way through the battle scenes, but the way in which her actions are choreographed or framed never manage to capture that same sense of intensity and fluidity as that Tolkien character or even a Katniss or Hawkeye have.
It’s really a testament to the group dynamic, that Johnson and company keep you entertained for as much and as long as they do. This clique of heroes keeps pulling you back in again and again with their genuine and heartfelt performances, but the other actors don’t perform quite as well. John Hurt basically turns up to do another John Hurt performance, while Joseph Fiennes in a smaller role is busy hamming it up to an extent that none of the other actors do. The wonderful Peter Mullan, an incredibly versatile actor, only gets a one-note army leader to portray, which results in another dull character. It’s a combination of writing and acting that makes the foil for our heroes incredibly dull and not at all threatening, which lessens the tension present in the film. As a result Hercules’ actions in Thrace are far less interesting than the personal demons he’s facing, but unfortunately the latter is only a small part of the movie compared to the former. It’s a shame: with greater villains and more imaginative battles, Hercules‘ really could have been a fun and entertaining swords and sandals film, but now it doesn’t amount to much more than a romp you’ll soon forget, a far cry from the myth that still sparks our imagination to this day.
Hercules core group of characters is incredibly fun to watch, but all that surrounds them fails to leave a mark. Because of the mediocre action, run-of-the-mill story and dull villains, this movie fails to be the truly riveting adventure the Hercules character deserves. 6/10