Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his small, loyal warrior team earn gold as roaming mercenaries for hire. But when he accepts the offer of Lord Cotys (John Hurt) of Thrace to train an army in order to protect the kingdom from a ruthless warlord called Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), Hercules must finally make a choice between making money and making a difference.
Based on Steve Moore’s comic ‘Hercules: The Thracian Wars’, the screenplay, written by Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, goes in a very interesting direction, presenting Hercules’ legendary labours as merely exaggerated stories used to boost his claim to be an unbeatable demigod. His band of mercs, made up of knife-wielding Spartan Autolycus, Amazon archer Atalanta, berserker warrior Tydeus, the philosophical spearman Amphiaraus and storyteller Iolaus, all do their best to help overstate their leader’s prowess as much as possible.
Director Brett Ratner handles the movie really well, orchestrating some impressive big scale battles, most notably the clash with the bald, savage Bessi tribesmen, and he inserts twists and revelations into the story at exactly the right points. This plotting skilfully builds up to the scene that makes HERCULES a favourite fantasy action movie of mine… when, during the film’s desperate, all-is-lost moment, Hercules draws on all his willpower and belief to actually tap into the godlike strength required to break his chains.
It’s such a highpoint when Dwayne roars “I am Hercules!” and leaps into action. Love it!
What helps make this scene work so well is that, up until this point, the movie has worked hard to strip away the legend and demystify Hercules’ feats, revealing that his fights with the likes of the Hydra and the Nemean Lion were all fabricated or overly embellished. ‘Centaurs’ are revealed to merely be inaccurately observed mounted warriors and Cerberus proves to be a misremembered hallucination. So, by the time Hercules is shackled in the dungeon, seemingly powerless to prevent Cotys’ daughter Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) from being executed, you really don’t think he will be able to draw upon the superhuman might needed to save the day.
Dwayne Johnson makes for a perfect, very physical Hercules, Ian McShane stands out as Amphiaraus, who amusingly keeps mistakenly thinking he can foresee his own imminent death, and Rufus Sewell imbues Autolycus with a cynical charm.
Though all of the monsters are ultimately revealed to be bogus, the CGI utilised to bring them to the screen is top-notch, especially the huge, tree-splintering Erymanthian Boar. The three huge, black wolves that Hercules combats in the dungeon are well executed too by the visual effects team, with one of the critters getting its jaws snapped in the vicious skirmish with the Greek strongman.
HERCULES is a handsome, well-mounted yarn with good production design and cinematography, which deftly balances humour and seriousness to produce a movie that rewards repeated viewings.
Here are some posters…
Finally, here’s the awesome Erymanthian Boar in action…