February 27, 2024

Hercules review – Muscles and mayhem in ancient Thrace

‘Don’t just stand there, kill someone…’

Hercules is a rollicking muscles and mayhem ancient world adventure, but if you want to brush up on your Greek mythology it doesn’t stick to the stories of Herakles that you might be expecting.

Directed by Brett Ratner this is not the tale of the strong-man’s famous labours, although during the introduction CGI allows us to see Dwayne Johnson killing the Hydra and fighting the Nemean lion. Later special effects bring to life an unpleasantly real Cerberus, but the rest of the film is based not on the oral traditions of Ancient Greece but on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore.

Beginning after his more well-known exploits, Hercules has changed (personality, not loincloth). He has become more human – though he can still stand in front of his army and withstand charges of hundreds of soldiers, so he’s not that mortal. The film questions his reputation and superpowers. Is his reputation as a demigod just PR? Were the tales of his bravery cooked up by his team to help win battles? Is he really just human muscles and a lion hat? Has he even been involved in the deaths of his own family?

This Hercules is not the solitary hero of mythology. He no longer battles alone but wanders with a crew of warriors, a kind of BC Robin Hood – with a band of not-particularly merry men and a woman who’s handy with a bow and arrow. They live as mercenaries, fighting for pay and caring little for the cause. Amongst the entourage Rufus Sewell stands out as Autolycus, given an unusual look and some fun dialogue, such as barking ‘Don’t just stand there, kill someone…’ when he joins a battle.

On being told he will be paid his weight in gold by the King of Thrace a colleague pushes Hercules a plate of food and urges him to eat up. Hercules doesn’t take itself seriously which is one of the keys to an action movie not becoming pompous nonsense. The script includes some amusing lines and there is a knowing moment when Iolaus discusses the title he should give Hercules’ story. No doubt something similar was discussed about the film itself.

There is an awful lot of action. A lot of clubbing and stabbing and punching and charging wildly. Atalanta kills many people with arrows, whilst Ian McShane’s Amphiaraus has fun employing a pimped-up chariot to do his dirty work. The multitude of deaths and injuries are not as bloody as in 300, but they go on. And on.

The music by Fernando Valazquez is as swollen as the Styx in flood and if you’ve seen enough pecs and spears films you could probably tell what is happening from the soundtrack alone. The action is relentless and the plot is not taxing but the 98min length is much more bearable than some of this summer’s blockbusters. You also get to see a few computer generated Ancient Greek monsters that bring the  myths alive – though these short segments do make you think that including more of the original Labours would have made a more interesting film.




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