REVIEW: Hercules

ps-ewmovie-24 MOVIE Dwayne ??The Rock?? Johnson stars in Brett Ratner?s Greek epic Hercules. Pic from FDC837429162.jpgHERCULES (M)

Stars: Dwayne Johnson, Reese Ritchie, Ian McShane, John Hurt

Director: Brett Ratner

Screening: general release

Rating: ★★

“WHAT a load of crap!” a character in Hercules says at one point early on, and it’s tempting to agree.

Dwayne “The Artist Formerly Known as The Rock” Johnson is likeable enough – even if nobody’s going to mistake him for Laurence Olivier – but this Brett Ratner-directed film, adapted from a comic, is a disappointment despite some signs of what might have been.

After a brief recap of the 12 Labours of Hercules, the movie establishes the strong man (and alleged demi-god) as a mercenary. He doesn’t quite wear a sign saying “Will Crack Heads for Gold” but he might as well.

With a small band including his eager-to-prove-himself nephew Iolaus (Reese Ritchie) and the not-always-reliable seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), he is hired by Lord Cotys of Thrace (John Hurt) to save the land from a threatened invasion. The fee will be Hercules’ weight in gold, a not inconsiderable amount.

Hercules and company must whip the Thracians into fighting shape and lead them into battle but is it possible they are fighting for the wrong side?

As storytelling, this is lazy and occasionally a bit muddled, with potentially interesting elements – the true nature of Hercules, mythology versus reality, what makes a hero – too often passed over in favour of cheap laughs. Not that humour can’t be integrated successfully into a heroic tale but it needs to be done with more finesse than Ratner and company can manage. That, or just go all out for spoofiness. Playing it in between doesn’t really work here.

Hurt, perhaps surprisingly, underplays his role while McShane has a bit more fun with some of his cheesier moments.

This is – quite literally – one of the dimmest movies I’ve ever seen. Even accounting for the 3D glasses, which darken images somewhat, the visuals in the movie, even in the outdoor scenes, are so murky they make the Rembrandt look of The Godfather seem like the Technicolor brightness of The Wizard of Oz. You can still make out what’s happening but the production design and special effects aren’t done any favours.