I wish I could say that Brett Ratner’s HERCULES is one bloody awful film but it’s not bloody at all. It’s just awful. I wish it had been bloody and I don’t know why it wasn’t. There was a lot of fighting happening on screen but the only person who seemed show any of the red stuff was Hercules and even his wasn’t that much. I get more blood on my face from shaving. I was expecting blood to splat off the screen à la Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR or the SPARTACUS TV series. This is a 3D film, after all. What’s the point of having 3D if things aren’t going to start flying out at the audience?
This film’s take on Hercules finds its source in Radical Comics’ revisionist tale of the son of Zeus and the mortal Alcmene. There were two publications in that limited series – The Thracian Wars, which this film covers, and The Knives of Kush. Unlike previous film and TV versions (and there were many!), Ratner’s film deals with Hercules the man rather than Hercules the demigod. Sure, the guy’s got a helluva legend built up, but in this film we’re also shown glimpses of Hercules’ family life.
In this story, Hercules (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) has completed all but one of his legendary Twelve Labours, from slaying the sabre-toothed Nemean Lion to capturing the Erymanthian Boar. That’s covered in the first few minutes of the film or, if you prefer, the film’s trailer. Rather than finishing his task, Hercules is keeping himself busy working as a roving mercenary – a club for hire, if you will – fighting battles around the Aegean with his band of not-so-merry warriors. Included in this motley crew are his pal, the curiously unthievish Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), Amazon archeress Atalanta (Norwegian actress Ingrid Bolsø Berdal), and wildman mute Tydeus (Norwegian actor Aksel Hennie). When Lord Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt) makes him an offer he can’t refuse (twice his weight in gold) to take out a rebel army, Herc and his friends embark on a new adventure that turns out to be something very different from what they had expected.
The first half of the film moves along at a Grecian snail’s pace as preparations for the big battle gear up. When it finally arrives, it is almost uneventful, which is what makes the subsequent plot twist not much of a surprise at all. Perhaps the fault, then, lies with the screenplay, which seems to have been written by a couple of post-pubescent boys. The film is certainly targeted to that demographic. Let’s look at the evidence: Rippling biceps, an Amazon babe (though not in the same league as Lucy Lawless), lots of CGI and a couple of well-placed swear words. The only thing missing was the blood…
And the sex. This film was neutered! The closest HERCULES got to being steamy was when Herc and Lord Cotys’ daughter made eyes at each other. This was a missed opportunity if there ever was one. Perhaps Ratner wanted to avoid getting an R rating (or a Category III rating in Hong Kong) but, by walking the straight and narrow, all he ended up with was a boring mess.
Yes, HERCULES is an awful film. By the great Zeus, let’s hope it goes the way of the ancient Greeks as quickly as possible.
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 41:10.)