Movie Review: Hercules

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After completing his labours, Hercules and his companions are summoned to Thrace to protect the kingdom against a mysterious foe.

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Brett Ratner, 2014

We meet Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) and his band of merry men fighting pirates. His nephew Iolaus (Reese Ritchie) tells tall tales about his heroics, building the myth of the “son of Zeus” so the band of mercenaries can make their money. Soon Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson), a princess of Thrace, comes to them requesting their help in ousting a seemingly magical enemy who are threatening her father’s people. He arrives in Thrace to aid Lord Cotys (John Hurt) in training an army to face their foe. However, Hercules and his team are not quite as mercenary as they seem, and soon enough he and his team – including Amazon Atalanta (Ingrid Bolso Berdal), seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), quick-witted Autolycus (Rufus Sewell) and madman Tydeus (Aksel Hennie) – have their resolve tested and must reexamine their priorities.

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Who put the “glad” in Gladiator?

I enjoyed Hercules much more than I thought I would. That is to say, I went into it thinking it would be bad but fun; what I got was a cheesy old school adventure that was pure fun, without a lot of the cringe factor I was expecting. It’s a smarter tale than it looks, tackling the very nature of storytelling and mythology, and it has a number of talented actors having a great deal of fun in a campy adventure romp that doesn’t pretend to be anything it’s not. Johnson has a natural, likeable charisma about him that carries him through the acting bumps, and he’s supported by people like Hurt, Sewell, McShane, and a scenery-chewing villainous performance from Joseph Fiennes. In spite of a fridging, the surviving women get to be actual characters instead of being reduced to sidekick/love interest roles. Bolso Berdal’s Atalanta might be the best Wonder Woman we’ll get to see on-screen for a while. The friendship between Hercules and his team, especially the damaged Tydeus, feels genuine and fleshed out, and the animated credits sequence is well worth a second look for its take on Hercules’s trials.

Now, I’m not saying this movie is perfect. The plot has a decent twist, but it isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, and some of the acting leaves something to be desired. There are some laugh (or groan) out loud moments of deep dish cheese. But there’s a real atmosphere of fun and energy in it, too. Sets were built for real, stunts were performed; this isn’t an all-CGI extravaganza. There’s something deliciously old school about the entire thing, an embracing of the old days when movies could be big and dumb and still enjoyable. The costumes are fun, with their drawn-on abs and loincloths. They really went at this concept full tilt and came away with a highly enjoyable action movie with collect-’em-all heroes you come to care about. Compared with the much higher-grossing Lucy, which thinks it’s smarter than it is, this is a palate cleanser; a reminder of what movies can be when they stop pretending to be something they’re not.

Hercules on IMDb

 

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