Hollywood Product: Hercules

Dwayne Johnson is pretty weak in this inventive tale

Thursday July 17, 2014 01:00 am EDT

GENRE: Action-adventure

THE PITCH: A reimagining of the ancient tale, Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his motley crew are hired by Lord Cotys (John Hurt) to rid Thrace of a swelling rebellion. But things are not as they seem and the legend of the hero is brought into question and challenged. Based off the Radical Comics graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars, by Steve Moore and Admira Wijaya.

MONEY SHOT: The rebellious Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), sets a trap for Hercules and his newly amassed Thracian Army. While the farmers-turned-soldiers are basically chattel, Hercules and his crew of warriors lay waste to hundreds of barbarians with creativity and extreme prejudice.

BEST LINE: Arius (Isaac Andrews) is fanatical about the tales of Hercules and adamantly follows the heroes throughout the palace. When his mother, Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) sees this, she whisks him away with a warning, “Men of violence tend to attract violence.”

COMIC PROPORTIONS: There are very few parallels to the dark, gory, five-book miniseries. All of the characters are represented including the numerous battle locations, but expect a limited backstory, less blood, and the unapologetic boldness that the books illustrate. This version of Hercules is moody, conflicted, and essentially burdened into his current mantle.

BOTTOM LINE: While Hercules’ legend is epic, this film is far from it. Brett Ratner known more from the Rush Hour movie franchise has trouble interpreting the grandiloquent tone of Moore’s original comic. Instead of the unapologetic soldier of fortune akin to Conan, we are introduced to a tortured hulk of a man obsessed with his exit strategy. Much of Ratner’s energy is focused on staging examples of Hercules’ questionable birthright and spends little time on other critical junctures to help this film along. Johnson’s version of this questionable demigod is weak. In most scenes he practically fades into the activity of his rag-tag entourage instead of the principal character you would imagine. This bland performance could be perceived as the vehicle to accentuate a paramount twist in the story - his legend is actually an amalgam of his band’s adventures, but it comes across blank and jejune at best. Thank the gods his entourage including Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell, Askel Hennie, and Igrid Bolsø Berdal work overtime to keep the story light and relatively engaging.

As much as Hercules is lacking, this angle of the story is refreshing. Ratner’s gamble of accentuating the quandary of Hercules’ potential lineage cleverly adds enough plot points for moviegoers to mull over; elevates the ensemble of supporting character to sell the rest of the tale, and provides the perfect vehicle for the scantily clad Johnson to do what he does best - flex pecs, which makes for perfect popcorn fare.

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