Starring Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Ingrid Bolso Berdal
Screenplay by Ryan Condol and Evan Spiliotopoulos
I went into this movie with low expectations. The movie industry’s track record for sword and sorcery movies (at least ones I’ve seen) hasn’t been too great the last couple of years. And Hercules isn’t always a character they get right.
I was impressed. While not a perfect movie, I thought it got a lot more right than it did wrong.
In this story, Hercules had completed 11 of his 12 labors and was living in Athens when his family was brutally murdered while he was in the house. He remembered nothing about the murders. Rumors began to spread that he had killed them, and Hercules was forced to flee Athens.
Now he makes his living as the commander of a small group of mercenaries. They need one more good contract to call it quits and settle down. That’s when the daughter of the king of Thrace shows up. The kingdom is being menaced by a warlord. She offers Hercules his weight in gold if he and his companions will help them.
Of course things are not quite what they seem…
The plot twists weren’t especially surprising, but I thought they were well done.
In this version of the story, Hercules probably isn’t the son of Zeus. His nephew (played by Reece Ritchie) accompanies the group, and he acts as their propaganda agent. His job is to embellish the stories. That way Hercules and his friends can ask for more money.
Eventually Hercules has to rise above his legend.
And that’s what I liked about the movie. The themes of heroism, loyalty, protecting the weak, and rising to the occasion and writing your own story were woven into the movie.
I wrote recently about the need for heroes in sword and sorcery. This version of Hercules is a perfect example of what I was talking about.
Most of my quibbles are minor. The Thracian army looks a lot like Romans at times. If the warlord is such a badass, why hasn’t Hercules heard of him?
For the most part, though, I thought the film was well done. The dialogue was good, and the casting was perfect. Ian McShane provided some great comic relief at times as the seer in the group whose death had been revealed to him by the gods. Ingrid Bolso Berdal was well cast as an Amazon. (I thought at first she was Amy Adams, the resemblance was that strong.) Aksel Hennie plays a mute warrior that was the only survivor of a massacre as a child. In many ways, he’s the most tragic figure in the film. Dwayne Johnson was perfect as Hercules. He has the physique to play the part without being so muscle bound he slides into parody.
One word of caution, Hercules is rated PG-13 for a reason. (Spoilers to follow in this and the next paragraph.) I went to see the movie today in part because my 12 year old son wanted to see it. That and my wife wanted us out of the house and out from underfoot. There’s some language (although not a lot) that would be inappropriate for younger viewers. Of course there’s a lot of violence, although surprisingly little blood.
All of that pales in comparison to the emotional intensity near the end, which is where I think children may have some problems. Once the true villain has been revealed, Hercules and his companions are locked up in a dungeon along with the villain’s daughter. He orders her beheaded. She is screaming and crying and has been placed in the chopping block, with the axe falling before Hercules can come to her rescue. It was disturbing. My son turned his face away from the screen at this point. Parents use your discretion about this movie where younger viewers are concerned.
I really liked Hercules and will be buying it on DVD when it comes out. This is the sword and sorcery movie of the summer.