Thursday, July 31, 2014

Hercules - Movie Review

As a fan (and teacher) of Greek Mythology, I got pretty excited when I heard that they were making not one, but two Hercules movies. I was really hoping that Hollywood would realize the great potential that lies in the character. Sure, the Disney cartoon is a lot of fun, if you ignore the Michael Bolton theme song, but it really doesn't get to the heart of what Heracles is all about. He's a suffering hero, who performs his twelve labors to atone for having killed his wife and children (not by his own free will, the goddess Hera drove him into a hallucinogenic rage).

My expectations dwindled considerably when I heard that one of them was to be directed by Renny Harlin and the other by Brett Ratner. Oh boy, that's not a good sign. It looked to me like the studios weren't going to be taking this very seriously.

Call me crazy, but I think that there's a potential for a Greek Mythology movie that does for the myths what Batman Begins did for superhero movies. I think that they can create something where the actors play their roles straight and the dialogue doesn't need to be stilted with a bizarre, trying-to-sound-like-Shakespeare-but-that-ain't-Shakespeare cadence to it. Perhaps somebody in Hollywood has had this idea, but nobody's funding that movie just yet.

When I saw the previews for the first one, The Legend of Hercules, I couldn't see anything that was even remotely connected to the myth that I know. You could have called it The Legend of This Dude from a Hella Long Time Ago, and it would have made just as much sense. I figured I'd skip it, and considering that it's holding a whopping 3% (no, I didn't leave out a zero - that's three) on Rotten Tomatoes, it seems like that was the wise move. Shoot Hercules in New York has 20%! I'd be better off watching that.

Perhaps I was just hurting for a mythology fix, but when I first started seeing pictures of Dwayne Johnson (Aren't you glad I didn't write "The Rock" in between his first and last names?) as the title character, I started to get optimistic. The pelt of the Nemean Lion on him? Okay, they've got the look down. Also, when I would read interviews with Johnson (no relation) it certainly seemed like the guy was enthusiastic for the project.

When I saw the previews, I started to get optimistic. They certainly weren't skimping on the special effects, and the Nemean Lion, the Hydra, the Erymanthian Boar - yeah, looking good. Still, at best it was just going to be dumb fun, right?

The early reviews confirmed my best-case scenario. It's currently sitting at a 62% on Rotten Tomatoes with the consensus being:
Hercules has Brett Ratner behind the cameras and Dwayne Johnson rocking the loincloth -- and delivers exactly what any reasonable person reading that description might expect.
I'd say that's a fair assessment, but since I have a soft spot for the material, I probably like it a bit more than even most of those who gave it a good review. Is this the definitive Hercules movie that I think can exist? Not exactly. However, they did get one thing right, and that's that he's not just a hero, but he suffers, and there is a lot of pain behind all that heroism.

The story plays around with the source material quite a bit, making the character a mercenary, and the impression is given that all of his labors were done with the help of his friends, but the stories grew in the telling. Also, his friends have no problem with him getting  all the credit, as it makes their enemies more afraid. Still, things are kept just vague enough, and if you want to believe that he's literally the son of Zeus by the time the story ends, you have enough justification to believe so.

I really liked Johnson in the lead role. He's a great action star, and he's able to bring the right amount of humor to a movie like this. However, I think that he also was able to convey the right amount of pain behind that Nemean Lion's pelt. (The movie keeps the bit about him killing his children, but it adds a twist that I won't spoil. As far as I'm concerned, the twist doesn't take away from what's important about that particular piece of the mythology though - and that's his inner need to atone.) From what I read, he really threw himself into the role, even to the point of passing out eight times. I'd say that it paid off, as the particular scene he's describing is the movie's high-point.

Some of the critics have complained that the movie has these dead-serious moments, when the rest of it is a lot of fun. I suppose you can accuse it of having an uneven tone, but it never went too far in either direction as far as I was concerned. Then again, that might be my blind spot for the material talking there.

One thing that struck me is that it was nice to see something that dealt with Ancient Greece that didn't look like 300. When that particular movie came out, it was cool because I had never seen anything like it, as it was bringing Frank Miller's comic book to life. But then I'd see previews for movies like Immortals and it seemed to be aping the same style. I couldn't even get past the first episode of that Spartacus TV show because it was such a stylistic ripoff of 300. With Hercules though, there certainly was a fair amount of CGI, but there were also a lot of practical effects and tons of extras running at each other during the battle scenes. (Or maybe the CGI is just getting that good to the point where I hadn't noticed. It seemed to me that they just used it to enhance the armies, not create them.) I looked up to see where they filmed, as the backgrounds weren't CGI vistas, and while it wasn't Greece, the scenery of Hungary sure looked good.

I figured that at worst, I'd be entertained. I got a bit more than that. Lastly, I should point out that I have only read the first issue of the comic book series on which it's based. I liked it, and now I'm eager to check out the rest of it.

1 comment:

Thomas Watson said...

Good review. Wasn't perfect, but definitely better than I expected it to be. Especially since it was just fun.