Director: Brett Ratner
Major Players: Dwayne Johnson, Rufus Sewell, Ian McShane, John Hurt
Out Of Five: 2
A few weeks ago, I saw some preview footage from Brett Ratner’s Hercules. Ratner himself was like a big excited puppy about the whole project and I came away with a sneaky suspicion that the film might be like that as well. Of course, the trouble with puppies is they can make a mess ….
And Ratner is asking for trouble when, within the first two minutes of the film, “what a load of crap!” is uttered very loudly and emphatically. It lodges firmly in your brain and it’s impossible to shake off – from your mind or the film. So he’s almost made my job too easy for me.
Demi-god Hercules’ twelve labours are well behind him and he’s become a mercenary, selling his services to the highest bidder. Not that he fights alone: he’s accompanied by four trusted followers and this time he’s hired by the King Of Thrace. A deadly enemy needs to be destroyed and the only way to do it is to transform the male population of Thrace into an efficient army. But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
Well, it wouldn’t be, would it? That would be too easy. The sub-plot concerns the death of Hercules’ wife and children and the involvement of King Eurystheus (Joseph Fiennes). It’s not too much of a spoiler – no more than the phrase “a load of crap” – to say that he gets his just desserts at the end. And the expression on his face makes you think he has a bad case of indigestion.
The film is based on Radical Comics’ Hercules:The Thracian War, so it’s no wonder it all looks rather cartoon-like and that the dialogue, such as it is, is peppered with decidedly 21st century expressions, including the odd cuss or two. The action sequences are OK enough: there’s plenty of them and there needs to be because the scenes where the actors have to speak to move the plot along are as flat as pancakes . The dialogue is leaden to the point of embarrassment and the only way to cope with it is to take the approach of the trio of Brits in the film, Ian McShane, Rufus Sewell and John Hurt: turn it into a ham-acting contest. There’s one moment when I could’ve sworn Hurt and McShane were perilously close to corpsing.
Some of the CGI, by today’s standards, is risible. The baby Hercules at the beginning is obviously fake and of such a size that he would have made his slender mother’s eyes water. There’s a really lousy CGI mountain that sticks out like the proverbial sore digit and, while the final triumph has a couple of good moments, most of it looks decidedly unconvincing.
Ratner also manages to offend the female section of the audience with the token woman among Hercules’ band of mercenaries, Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal). She’s a remarkably good archer – miraculously so. Like anybody else, she can only fire one arrow at a time, and that’s what we see her do. But those solitary arrows seem to multiply in mid-air because, by the time they land, they’ve hit an awful lot of targets. It’s just ridiculous, but what’s offensive is the dialogue she’s been given, which includes some unnecessarily bitchy lines aimed at the size of Rufus Sewell’s manhood. So much for equality, then.
I’d have been happy to take the film for what it is, a piece of action hokum, if it had been well-made hokum. But, as the corpses piled up, so did its shortcomings. The trailers indicated some laughs and there are a few, mainly from McShane as Amphiaraus, the mercenary-come-soothsayer. And at least I could amuse myself with the unintentional humour, like the fact that Thrace’s enemy was called Rhesus – after all, we’d have a negative view of him, wouldn’t we?
So I’ve come full circle. Hercules never shakes off that line from the start of the film and spends just over 90 minutes living up to it. Perhaps, in the interests of brevity, we should drop the words “a load”.
Hercules is released around the UK on Friday, 25 July.