I totally missed out on the Dwayne Johnson Hercules that came out a while back. I don’t have the intense hatred for director Brett Ratner that seems to percolate in the film community. I think his films are generally fine (Rush Hour, Tower Heist) or pretty cool (Red Dragon, X-Men: The Last Stand). So I went into this with no particular expectation.
There is a particular conceit in the film that I think borders on brilliant. It’s kind of a spoiler if all you’ve seen is the trailer, but it’s explained in, like, the first three minutes of the film, so I’m going to put it out there. In this film, Hercules isn’t a demi-god. He didn’t perform the Twelve Labors alone. He’s a jacked warrior with an amazing team of fellow warriors working for him, along with a cousin who embellishes the actual missions into mythology so they can get work for hire.
This is a great way to go for a film. Now we don’t have to worry about gods coming down and deus-ex-machinaing all over the place. (Kind of like Troy.) And we get a reinterpretation of the story that, in this universe, is the “real” version of the myth, not what the storytellers have told us. (Kind of like Beowulf.) I suppose purists don’t like these kinds of films. I’m not a purist. I like the built-in irony of a film like this.
The movie has some fun action sequences, including some battle scenes that do a good job of showing us the tactics of the different sides and not letting it turn into a formless melee. Johnson’s Hercules is just strong enough to make it reasonable that people would assume he’s supernatural, but they never cross that line. He’s also the driving force for strategy, helping to turn an underdog army into a superior fighting force.
There really are a lot of things to like about this film. Rufus Sewell turning in a nice Han Solo performance. Ian McShane as Obi-Wan (sort of). John Hurt as a local king. The only really wobbly thing is everything with the character played by Joseph Fiennes. He telegraphs his evil so obviously, the reveal was somewhat pointless, not to mention shoehorned in as an unnecessary third act complication.
All in all, this is very much an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable film.