Casting Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Hercules? Best casting move of the year. Shame the film he’s in doesn’t quite live up to his awesomeness. The hook here is pretty much the opposite of all the recent run of sword and sandal movies: while our story begins with the traditional bunch of myths and legends around Hercules, son of Zeus, the reality is a bit more prosaic: Hercules is just the frontman for a travelling band of mercenaries – sadly never referred to as Herc and his Mercs – who together manage to accomplish all the amazing, war-winning feats that are attributed to him alone. They’re the usual collection of clichés – the feisty warrior woman, the guy who lets his weapons do the talking – with Rufus Sewell as the money-focused manager and Ian McShane as the grizzled vet who gets visions from the Gods (so he’ll know exactly when he’s going to die) the standouts. When they’re hired by a local king (John Hurt) to tackle a bunch of rebels pillaging the countryside, they see it as their big chance to score big and retire; unsurprisingly, the job quickly turns out to be more complicated than they’d expected.
Director Brett Ratner does his usual workmanlike job here, though at least the various large-scale battles are tackled with more attention to actual military tactics than usual (no “lets just have two armies charge each other” here). But the script isn’t really epic enough – which is the point of the first two-thirds or so, which are all about establishing Hercules as merely a skilful warrior – so that when things finally do step up a notch towards the end it just doesn’t feel as “big” as it should, even if it does involve an awful lot of one-man destruction.
It’s still entertaining enough, and Johnson is one of the rare Hollywood performers who is actually convincing as a demi-god; it’s just not the epic is should have been.
Written by Anthony Morris