I acknowledge that Hercules is not a great movie but as summer blockbuster entertainment, it’s more than functional especially thanks to an ensemble cast led by Dwayne Johnson and some (purposefully) humorous moments that I enjoyed myself.
Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Paramount | PG13/Unrated – 98 min. / 101 min. – $54.99 | November 4, 2014
THE MOVIE – 3.5/5
Note: This review contains spoilers about the plot so readers beware.
There are three things in life you can count on: Death, Taxes and Hercules. Yep, it’s the second Hercules film in 2014 following the atrocious and laughably awful The Legend of Hercules. This go-around, we get an upgrade in the cast, production values and oddly enough, even in the director, although when one gets compared to Renny Harlin, you better hope it’s an upgrade.
The story opens with Hercules’ background, a baby born the son of the god Zeus and Earthly mother Alcmene. The legend goes that Zeus’ wife, Hera, was obviously displeased with her husband’s affair and attempts to have Hercules killed, but fails. Later in life, now grown, Hercules (DWAYNE JOHNSON), tackles various tasks in the hopes of garnering Hera’s approval.
Of course, that is the legend, stories of Hercules’ strength in killing a lion, as told by his nephew Iolaus (REECE RITCHIE) as a way to strike fear in his enemies. In reality, while Hercules is strong, he has help from his band of fellow mercenaries-for-hire: Autolycus (RUFUS SEWELL), Tydeus (AKSEL HENNIE) and Atalanta (INGRID BOLSO BERDAL), along with Iolaus, though he serves as the storyteller rather than a fighter. Together they go across the lands wherever there is gold to be paid, with the goal of collecting enough to, more or less, retire (in so many words).
Their latest job comes from Ergenia (REBECCA FERGUSON) on behalf of her father Lord Cotys (JOHN HURT), who requires Hercules’ help stopping the advancement of a crime lord named Rheseus (TOBIAS SANTELMANN), who has run through the lands and is on the course toward Thrace. With the promise of his weight in gold, Hercules agrees to help in the fight including training what remains of Thrace’s forces which only include farmers and herdsmen.
With Cotys impatient in trying to take down Rheseus, he sends Hercules, the mercenaries and what remained of his armies ill prepared into battle which ended up being an ambush which causes many more casualties, though would’ve far worse if not for our hero and his men (and woman). With the bloodshed, Cotys agrees to have his residual soldiers to be fully trained to which we get the training sequence movie trope.
After the training, where these soldiers suddenly bulk up to be super soldiers now, they must stop Rheseus as he advances toward Thrace, leaving dead bodies and decapitated heads on spikes in his wake.
Alright, so the screenplay for Hercules more or less hits every note a Hollywood executive would want from their hopeful summer blockbuster from the big A-list star and numerous plot points seen in so many other films before. And although there’s really nothing new here, I still enjoyed the movie for what it is. The jokes mostly work and the action scenes, albeit kind of standard, are just good enough to make the film at least somewhat interesting.
Casting wise, Dwayne Johnson was great in the title role and sure as heck better than Kellan Lutz from that other Hercules movie. Johnson to his credit has turned out to be a better action star than I anticipated dating back to The Scorpion King and has progressed so well and taking an ordinary, even average film, to being tolerable (see: G.I. Joe: Retaliation).
The supporting players also get some due: Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, a Norwegian actress who made a splash in the Cold Prey movies; Rufus Sewell who thankfully we get to see play a good guy for once (when I read the credit block, I thought for sure he was playing the main baddie); Ian McShane is always great in just about anything he’s in; and Reece Ritchie serves well as a bit of the comic relief in many scenes. This is also not to mention Aksel Hennie who doesn’t get any lines until the end.
We also get a brief appearance from Joseph Fiennes as a fiendish King with a devious past with Hercules while John Hurt does well as the Thrace ruler and Rebecca Ferguson isn’t bad playing his daughter whose son, Arius, is next in line to be king. These roles aren’t anything amazing but serviceable enough to the plot which becomes kind of ho-hum by the third act.
Now, we get to the direction. Hercules was helmed by the oft maligned Brett Ratner and sometimes it’s deserved as he manages to take something that could’ve been incredible and turned it into mundane, good-looking films for sure, but quite average; just watch Red Dragon where he got Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton in several scenes together, plus there was the whole X-Men: The Last Stand debacle, even though certain blame can be laid at Bryan Singer’s feet… For this movie, however, his direction is fine yet he doesn’t have a certain style which makes his films standout from the rest.
In the end, Hercules is I guess one of the better outings for the character who has been played by numerous actors (Schwarzenegger, Ferriga and the aforementioned Lutz) across different types of genres, and while admittedly it’s not perfect, it is at least throwaway entertainment with just enough to get by and helped along the way with a breezy running time.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.5/5
The 3-disc set comes with a semi-glossy, title embossed slip cover. Inside is a redemption code for the Digital Copy as well as the DVD Copy.
Audio Commentary – Producer/Director Brett Ratner and Producer Beau Flynn sits down and gives an energetic commentary giving bits of info on the making of the movie and his longtime desire to make a Hercules movie.
Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson: An Introduction (5:32; HD) – The director and star chat about the project, some of the challenges (including Johnson’s injury) and what drew them to it, all intercut between behind-the-scenes footage and scenes from the movie.
Hercules and His Mercenaries (11:07; HD) looks at the supporting cast surrounding Dwayne Johnson, introducing them one by one.
Weapons (5:24; HD) – Here we examine the various weapons, the creations and how they fit the personality of the different characters (such as Hercules’ club).
The Bessi Battle (11:54; HD) breaks down one of the bigger battle scenes in the movie and how it was filmed, designed and choreographed.
The Effects of Hercules (12:28; HD) delves into the visual and special effects.
Deleted/Extended Scenes (14:38; HD) – 15 scenes were either cut or deleted outright and also includes an alternate ending which just kind of nearly wrapped things up, nothing major.
2D VIDEO – 4.5/5 | 3D VIDEO – 4.0/5
Hercules clubs onto Blu-ray presented in its original 2.40 theatrical widescreen aspect ratio and a 1080p high-definition transfer (MPEG-4 AVC codec). The picture does look quite good providing excellent detail levels and colors, albeit on the warmer side at times, appear to be well balanced. Blacks are stark and there aren’t any apparent artifacts or aliasing.
The 3D transfer meanwhile looks good giving some fine depth of field and on the whole it’s fine though, and perhaps thankfully, Ratner didn’t resort to spears or other objects flying at the audience, an annoying and oft hokey aspect some filmmakers utilize in their 3D presentations. That said, because the film is already dark looking, the filter in the glasses to make for an even darker appearance so it’s not quite the best 3D transfer.
AUDIO – 5.0/5
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track offered up sounds, as one would expect, excellent with incredible depth and an all around dynamic aural experience where dialogue is of course crisp and clear while the action elements and sequences help the surrounds and LFE channel come to life. It’s an even dispersion of audio with no one channel overpowering the other and giving as best of the home theatrical experience as possible.
OVERALL – 3.75/5
Overall, I acknowledge that Hercules is not a great movie but as summer blockbuster entertainment, it’s more than functional especially thanks to an ensemble cast led by Dwayne Johnson and some (purposefully) humorous moments that I enjoyed myself. The Blu-ray released by Paramount includes a fair number of bonus material and the video/audio transfers are both excellent.