Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Review: Entertaining "Hercules" is Old-Fashioned and a Bit Different

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 2 (of 2015) by Leroy Douresseaux

Hercules (2014)
Running time:  98 minutes (1 hour, 38 minutes)
MPAA - PG-13 for epic battle sequences, violence, suggestive comments, brief strong language and partial nudity
DIRECTOR:  Brett Ratner
WRITERS:  Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos (based on the Radical Studios Hercules: The Thracian War comic book written by Steve Moore)
PRODUCERS:  Beau Flynn, Barry Levine, and Brett Ratner
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Dante Spinotti (D.o.P.)
EDITORS:  Mark Helfrich and Julia Wong
COMPOSERS:  Fernando Velázquez and Johannes Vogel (score composer)


Starring:  Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Santelmann, Peter Mullan, Rebecca Ferguson, Karoline Szymczak, and Isaac Andrews

Hercules is a 2014 fantasy drama and action-adventure film from director Brett Ratner.  This film presents a new take on the mythical Greek hero, Hercules, and the film's story is based on Hercules: The Thracian Wars, a graphic novel written by the late Steve Moore.  In this Hercules movie, Hercules and his band of mercenaries enter the service of a Thracian lord who is fighting a bloodthirsty warlord.  Of note, director Peter Berg is one of this film's executive producers.

This movie finds Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) as the leader of a band of mercenaries:  the prophet, Amphiaraus (Ian McShane); the knife-throwing thief, Autolycus (Rufus Sewell); the feral warrior, Tydeus (Aksel Hennie); the Amazon archer, Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal); and Hercules' nephew, Iolaus (Reece Ritchie), a storyteller.   It is the year, 358 B.C., and they are on the Macedonian Coast in Northern Greece, paid to dispatch troublesome pirates.

Shortly after that mission, Hercules and his band are celebrating at a tavern where they are approached by Ergenia (Rebecca Ferguson) with the offer of a new mission.  She has come to Hercules on behalf of her father, Lord Cotys (John Hurt) of East Thracia.  Cotys wants Hercules to lead his army against Rheseus (Tobias Santelmann), a bloodthirsty warlord said to have mystical powers.  The legend of his “twelve labors” precedes Hercules, and the people expect supernatural results from him in dealing with the mysterious Rheseus.  All is not what it seems, however.

The trailers, commercials, and advertisements do not do justice to Hercules.  I am not going to lie to you and say that this is a great movie, but Hercules is an old-fashioned, action-adventure movie that manages to be both different and quite entertaining.  The film has dramatic heft because the story engages Hercules' shame and grief, and also the nature of his personality as related to the legends about him.  The story also delves deeply into Hercules' relationships with his band of mercenaries, as a whole and as individuals.  They are a family, and the story allows each member of this family to reveal his or her's personality and desires (or goals).

The advertising for Hercules emphasized the battle scenes, and the trailers made Hercules look like a Conan the Barbarian movie set in Greek antiquity.  However, this Hercules is not quite swords-and-sandals (or swords-and-sorcery, for that matter), but there are indeed two battles fought directly against Rheseus' forces.  These two battle sequences are fantastically staged.  I wish that they were longer, or that there was a third fight out on the battlefield.

Early in this film, Dwayne Johnson looks bored as Hercules, and he may be.  On the other hand, I think that his attitude is a deliberate choice of performing the character on the part of Johnson.  Having experienced the fickleness of the gods or perhaps of existence, Johnson's Hercules does not take everything so seriously that every professional setback seems like the end of the world.  Hercules and his friends take each job as it comes, with a jaundiced eye toward the declared motivations of potential buyers of their services.

Director Brett Ratner takes that and makes a Hercules that is spirited and fun, but not shallow.  It is a film not overwhelmed by computer generated imagery, environments, and actions.  The CGI simply enhances the fantasy, while the story stays grounded.  So Hercules is the kind of solidly-entertaining action-adventure that is worth repeated viewings.  And yeah, I'd like a sequel.

6 of 10

Monday, January 12, 2015

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