The single biggest flaw within director Brett Ratner’s vision of Hercules is one that came from a self-conscious decision to create a Hercules story that is grounded in reality. While that is an interesting concept, the frustration comes from the fact that the movie was marketed as a fantasy inspired adventure where the titular character completes the Twelve Labors. Instead, what we got is a movie that not only rushes through those trials and tribulations in a five minute montage opening sequence, but one that attempts to debunk every piece of mythology as the film goes on.
This means that the remaining 90 minutes or so are a painfully generic narrative about Hercules and his friends as a group of mercenaries for hire. Not exactly the kind of Hercules movie I imagine people wanted to see, especially when it stars Dwayne Johnson as the mythical demigod; a man who truly was born to play this role. If I wanted to watch The Rock train some inefficient people into shape, I would go watch Gridiron Gang again. Simply put, the first half of this movie is ridiculously boring and in desperate need of some boots to asses.
It also doesn’t help that the story is as cliché as they come for a Hollywood blockbuster, and can be summarized as the protagonists unknowingly helping out the bad guys until they figure it out, and then they have a climactic showdown. That’s really a shame, too, because one of the more interesting plot points revolves around Hercules’ mental torture and suffering from being tricked into murdering his own family; a concept that the God Of War video game franchise did far more fascinating things with. Here it just feels like an afterthought, and another vehicle to debunk another myth, except this time with a Cerberus.
Furthermore, for someone who surrounds himself with a bunch of badass, intimidating looking mercenaries, Hercules has some pretty dull friends. It’s funny because throughout some of the special features on the Blu-Ray, Brett Ratner actually discusses how he is proud that he has created such varied and deep characters with emotional depth, but in reality, the only thing separating one from another is their choice of weapon, and the fact that one happens to be a woman. It’s impossible to care about any of the supporting characters in this film. Hell, even the villains are as lame as they come.
OK I lied, there is one interesting supporting character in the film: Ian McShane’s Amphiaraus. He’s an aging warrior getting up there in years, but he has also apparently seen a vision of his death. So at multiple points of the movie we get these darkly comedic scenes where he is ready to embrace death, while Hercules constantly saves him. The reason it works though and comes across so entertaining is because of the conviction McShane brings to the role, along with some hilarious facial expressions during scenes like preparing to embrace a flaming arrow coming at his throat. Ian McShane aces every role he is given though, so him being a highlight in Hercules shouldn’t really surprise anyone.
The action that is present in Hercules is a mixed bag; sometimes it’s breathtaking, hard-hitting, and intense to watch, while at other times it just feels like your standard run-of-the-mill PG-13 Hollywood blockbuster action. There are two sequences in particular that stand out; one is a sprawling epic battle against the Bessi army, and the other is a surprisingly compelling and well-acted scene of self-realization of who Hercules is. Past that, there really is no style or flair to the action, it’s just a bunch of dudes stabbing each other with very little blood coming out. I will admit though that the extended cut did seem a little more graphic and violent, but it still isn’t very satisfying.
Even though the action isn’t exactly going to blow viewers away, the 1080p transfer of the Blu-Ray is a remarkably strong one, full of crisp colors and highly detailed textures. At points during the battle sequences you can clearly see debris, ash, and other particle effects in the background of the action, giving the battlefield a much more authentic feel. The movie also has a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track that allows everything from clanking battle armor to blades meeting flesh to be heard as clear as day.
As for extras, Hercules packs quite a bit of content:
- Audio Commentary with Director Brett Ratner and Producer Beau Flynn (Theatrical Version Only)
- Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson: An Introduction
- Hercules and His Mercenaries
- The Bessi Battle
- The Effects of Hercules
- Deleted and Extended Scenes
While the commentary isn’t anything particularly exciting, I did find that the introduction by Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson fairly interesting, as it glosses over the trouble that arose as filming was about to start, which was essentially The Rock tearing tendons during his WrestleMania match with John Cena. Essentially, production got delayed a bit but Dwayne Johnson and Brett Ratner still had faith in each other because they both felt the other was perfect for the job.
The featurette on Hercules‘ mercenaries is somewhat enjoyable as well, if only because it tries to give some exposition to the supporting characters that quite frankly should not have been in the film to begin with. Does the featurette suddenly transition them into layered characters with depth? No, but it’s another fun watch.
Weapons!, while a short featurette, offered a bit of insight into the fighting styles of Hercules and his mercenaries. Everything from blades to clubs to archery is discussed, and truth be told, there are some interesting tidbits to be learned. For example, many of the actors wanted to carry the real thing on set instead of their rubber counterparts, and some of them actually did.
The making of the Bessi Battle is probably the best special feature on the disc, as the battle is probably the most enjoyable scene in the film. This little documentary goes through all the dedication and work that went into creating an authentic village, along with the painted green savages themselves. Seeing just how much detail went into pulling it off is a marvel to watch and makes you appreciate the scene that much more.
Hercules might not be all that entertaining, but there are quite a few backhanded compliments I can give it. For starters, it is miles better than that crap with Kellen Lutz that came out back in January, and Dwayne Johnson absolutely shines in a role that is meant for him. The visuals and audio got an excellent transfer, too, and it’s definitely fun watching Brett Ratner and Dwayne Johnson justify their vision for the movie, even if you happen to disagree with them.
Overall, Hercules isn’t so much a bad film as a disappointing one. There’s some fun to be had here, for sure, but a lot of it just feels like a missed opportunity for what could have been a truly exciting take on the Greek legend.