The legend of Hercules has been told time after time. Heck, earlier this year, movie goers even received another Hercules film. It didn’t do so hot (both with overall reception and with box office receipts), but maybe I’ll give it a watch down the road to wash away the dingy aftertaste Brett Ratner’s Hercules left behind.
When a character as old as Hercules is dusted off and used to make another swords-and-sandels yarn, the fate of quality is left in the storyteller’s hands. How will they utilize this crowd pleasing hero? Audiences have seen Hercules represented by many different, beefy actors and they’ve all fought different ghastly creatures. But aside from the muscles and mythical brutes, there has to be an original voice that holds everything together.
Our main storyteller is Ratner, who takes so many missteps and pedestrian decisions, you’d think the filmmaker was challenging himself to break some kind of record for excessive blandness.
Take Hercules, for example. The character is played by action superstar Dwayne Johnson, who can be absolutely charismatic in the worst vehicles Hollywood has to offer. Part of what makes Johnson such a good sport is that he has the strength to muster through deadly scripts and unoriginal direction, and still leaves a memorable presence. You may hate the movie, but you’ll leave appreciating Johnson’s efforts.
The star has met his match with Hercules. With the disservice of an uninspired production and a character design that’s been tiredly tailored from Halloween costumes, Johnson’s appeal isn’t used. Instead, Ratner and his crew try and turn their headliner into Joe Manganiello. I just heard every male between 30 and 45 say, “who?” Manganiello is a hunky heavyweight who was seen in Magic Mike and HBO’s True Blood, and he’s quickly making a name for himself in the entertainment industry.
If Hercules wanted Manganiello so badly, why didn’t they hire Manganiello instead of trying to dress Johnson up as him? Did they think they could kill two birds with one stone and earn points with fans of Johnson and people smitten with Manganiello? Either way, you can never believe in Johnson’s portrayal of the hero since he always looks like he’s going through a personality disorder.
It’s not Dwayne’s fault though. All of Hercules is going through a personality disorder since it can never obtain its own entity. Ratner’s lame brained flick rips, bites, and cheats off of other testosterone fuelled epics such as 300, Beowulf, and Immortals. These action films brought in big bucks from a lot of overconfident college males. Hercules shamelessly hopes to attract the same cash cow.
The film’s story involving Herc and his battle pals being hired to defend the kingdom of Thrace is a drab endeavour involving lots of training montages, few fights, monotonous old thyme talk, and awkward attempts to supply humour. All of which underwhelm because it’s the bare bones of something that should be more alive.
Screenwriters Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos do nothing new to expand on the “hired job” plot and give Johnson a lot of overblown monologues to his army-in-training intercut with a lot of grunts and bodyslams; making us think of other movies that actually pulled off this type of popcorn entertainment successfully using well choreographed thrills.
But, not only is the set-up constructed in a routinely boring manner, it all leads to a copycat third act that’s unpleasant in every way possible. It’s loud, brash, and murkily violent – barely staying within the bounds of its PG-13 rating.
I saw Hercules in IMAX 3D, and I would actually persuade people away from seeing it in this big screen format. Ratner deafens his audience with blood-curdling screams and piercing sounds of clanging metal. You’ll leave the screening with a headache. The 3D also doesn’t heighten the experience; unless the occasional blade extending towards the screen excites you.
Something interesting did happen during my screening though: a technical malfunction caused the film to flip to 2D. Everyone’s 3D glasses blackened and we all turned to each other to find out if it was a theatre-wide mishap. When it was discovered that everyone was affected, we all shrugged and turned back towards the screen to carry on watching the movie. We were all checked out for a decent amount of time and funny enough, we didn’t miss anything of importance.
My wife, who also suffered through this bludgeoning blockbuster, put it best: Hercules is so bad, even the glasses said, “I’m outta here.”