Score: 7 out of 10
The Rock stars in the new movie Hercules, based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars. On the surface, it does everything you would expect from a 2014 take on the Hercules myth. The Rock plays a grittier version of the powerful and muscular demigod as he travels around ancient Greece to fight bad guys and CGI monsters. When a Thracian King hires him and his comrades to help defeat a barbarous invading army, he agrees, but soon begins to unravel a sinister plot that leads him to discover who the real bad guys are.
The first half of Hercules is agonizingly boring. It’s the same old action crap we’ve all seen a thousand times before. It’s neither good nor bad, but bland and formulaic, split right down the middle. At least if it were bad it would be interesting, but you can’t even get mad about it. Thankfully, things take a surprising turn about halfway through the film and everything gets a lot better.
I’ll issue a quick spoiler warning before I tell you exactly why the second half of the movie is good. Still reading? Okay. The second half plays with the Herculean myth in a very interesting way. The first half sets him up as the undisputed son of Zeus, just like every other Hercules movie, but in the second half, we realize that this might not be the case. The legends of Hercules slaying entire armies with his superhuman strength could just be stories made up by his comrades. He could just be a normal man. The filmmakers keep it ambiguous. Most of the monsters are revealed to be nothing more than normal creatures or men in masks, still terrifying, but nothing supernatural. There’s even some ambiguity as to whether or not Hercules is really the son of Zeus, or if the gods exist at all. Few people still believe in the Greek gods, but the analogy with the present day should be obvious. This kind of in-your-face skepticism is rare in movies. Most filmmakers are eager to capitalize on the superstitions of average moviegoers, but the makers of Hercules are willing to ask some challenging questions. The fact that they’re willing to do this deserves a lot of respect, especially when you consider that this could have easily been just another mindless action movie.
Another thing that makes Hercules stand out is its performances. The Rock has always been a good entertainer, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that it’s fun watching him smash skulls, break bones, and throw people at other people. Other actors that stand out are Ian McShane as an aging warrior who believes his drug-induced visions are the revealed wisdom of the gods, and young actor Reece Ritchie, who actually gives the best performance in the film as a wannabe warrior who routinely exaggerates and embellishes what Hercules has accomplished.
The second half of Hercules is well worth watching, it’s just too bad you have to sit through the first half to get there. I suppose you could just come in halfway through, but then you’d miss all the necessary set up and exposition. Probably best just to watch the whole thing.
-Review written by Blake Siefken, follow me on Twitter!