Imagine a myth with all the magic stripped from it. Imagine a script with all its inspiration absent. Imagine a movie star seeking a paycheck, and a director who specializes in dumbing down his audience. Does it sound familiar? Sadly, this banal reincarnation of the Hercules legend spreads the pandemic of pandering to simple audiences with safe and unoriginal stories.
2014’s Hercules is a mortal mercenary who uses the legend of his name to strike fear into the hearts of enemies — and raise his rates as a sellsword. Until — gasp — he gets pulled into an adventure more personal, where money isn’t the only thing that matters anymore (unless you’re a movie studio).
Every scene is plucked out of a mandatory checklist. Every character arc (or meager attempt at it) is borrowed and half-assed. You’ve got your introductory backstory narration, characters introduced by name and given brief backstories, obligatory training montage, slow-motion hero shots, glistening muscle shots, and flash-cut flashbacks that hint at Hercules’ dark and boring secret. And Hercules’ mercenary BFF who was just in it for the money and abandons his comrades when the job is done –- will he return at an opportune moment despite his selfish pledge to flee?
The worst characters of all (unsurprisingly for this type of film) have to be the women. There’s a vaguely romantic noble woman who cries a lot. There’s the token tough chick, devoid of any personality, included so that the studio doesn’t get chastised for gender inequality. Then there’s — wait, nope, that’s it.
Too many times the heroes almost get killed, only to be saved by an arrow from a buddy in the background, after which they exchange a quick thank-you-nod like they just let somebody merge into their lane. Too many times the heroes defy the laws of physics while some warrior waits to be struck in the face.
Brett Ratner, director of such comfortably mediocre schlock as the Rush Hour series, Tower Heist, and The Family Man, helmed this unimaginative waste of money. Cinematically, he goes to every length to make every beat unbearably obvious. His efforts to highlight and explain every dull plot point are insulting. At this point, I suspect the audience is more aware of the story than he is.
The biggest disappointment: The often-charismatic Dwayne Johnson is rigid and disengaged. There’s no heart or courage in his character or his performance. He’s just a muscular good guy. In making Hercules a gold-seeking mercenary masquerading as a demigod, the filmmakers created ample opportunity for characterization. They could have added wit, grittiness, craftiness, charm, or even an actual flaw. Instead, they went with laughably stiff. From exclamations ranging from “F@#! centaurs” to “I. AM. HERCULES!!!”, the lines are inane, staccato bursts of dialogue as if read from a teleprompter.
The exception is Ian McShane. This guy just exudes coolness, and his tongue-in-cheek warrior/oracle is the only real flair the film has, providing a nice levity to offset the mindless testosterone and CGI. And if CGI is your bag, don’t get too excited for epic beasts or cool, mythical monsters. There ain’t much, and the film’s initial villains follow Hercules’ philosophy of pretending to be something they aren’t in order to frighten their enemies. That means they’re only masquerading as badass centaurs, instead of actually being badass centaurs. It’s unfortunate. It would have been nice to at least get some centaurs out of this.
The Blu-ray includes extended and theatrical cuts of the film, 15 deleted scenes, commentary track, and numerous making-of featurettes.