The legend of Hercules - a rippling mass of muscle, half-human, half-God - provides a well-timed opportunity to cash in on our lust for Game Of Thrones style empire grabs, hand to hand combat and revealing classical costumes.
But Brett Ratner’s take on Hercules, based on the Radical comics, makes a fractional effort at something different.
The obvious cinematic appeal of the Hercules story lies in the twelve ‘labours’ - trials Hercules must complete to appease the Gods - including the many headed Hydra, a giant wild boar and an enormous lion with an impenetrable hide.
Yet these beasts are rapidly despatched within the film’s opening moments by Dwayne Johnson, aka The Rock, who’s surly looking Hercules has a dark past complete with Gladiator-style family tragedy.
Johnson certainly looks the part, but his emotionless proclamations made in a jarring and disorienting American tongue rip all the fun from this comic book mash-up. Could his sole possession of the American accent signal Hercules’ Godly connections? Or is it simply the markings of lazy direction? Ratner’s Hercules doesn’t make the most of Johnson’s strengths. It’s much too straight, even making a late play for emotion over a dry slice of comedic brawn.
Yet Brett Ratner (Rush Hour, X-Men: The Last Stand) doesn’t give us a simple re-telling of the labours of Hercules either. Instead we get a story about the building of legends. It’s a neat idea but the fantasy filled, mythic combat of the labours which open Ratner’s film set it up for failure. What happens next has to be as exciting as the legend. It’s not. But perhaps that is Ratner’s very risky point.
The legend is not all it seems. In fact there’s a disappointing Scooby-Doo element to Hercules’ labours that feature humans dressed as monsters and a case of mistaken identity. Complete with a team of badass fighters, a psychic and a naive, squeaky voiced spin doctor, Hercules has built up a reputation for feats of greatness. Feats that appeal to Grecian ruler Lord Cotys (John Hurt) and see Hercules lead an army into battle.
With blunt chestnuts like, “You have it within yourselves to write your own legend,” Ratner’s movie weighs heavy on the ‘be your own superhero’ mantra. Just because monsters aren’t real doesn’t mean we can’t have heroes right?
Maybe. But Ratner plus comic book should equal fun and yet, like Hercules’ labours, the fantasy filled, high energy trailer is revealed as somewhat of a con. The predictably captured human versus human battles feature neither laugh out loud silliness or eye-popping gore. Toying with expectations is a risky business. Sometimes the ‘truth’ is greater than the legend. Just not this time around.
Running Time: 98 minutes