When Hollywood's most loveable movie star, Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, announced that he was playing Hercules it felt like a crowd-sourced piece of casting. The franchise saving, man mountain looked to inject unparalleled physicality to the mythical demigod. Passion, sacrifice and a sensational viral marketing (mostly via The Rock's instagram) had to contend with more than it bargained for. His greatest foe isn't written in mythology, the Rock's unstoppable force met the immovable object of the franchise killer Brett (I nearly ruined Hannibal Lector and the X-Men) Ratner.
The famed Hercules (Johnson) has completed his labours and he and his band of heroes Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) are operating as warriors for hire. King of Thrace Lord Cotys' (John Hurt) enlists their services against a warlord.
Writers Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos go with an anti-myth approach to the character that acknowledges that mythos as a reputation that grew around the man. The rumour and the hysteria of the masses make incoming armies mythical (a superior cavalry become minotaurs, a spy organisation Hydra - becomes the literal monster etc). It's too true to be good. The briefest glimpses that you see Hercules enacting his great feats as told by Ritchie's Iolaus this reviewer couldn't help but think, that's the movie that I wanted to see. And for moments that's the film, Ratner and his players feel like they want to make. Ratner's strength (the Rush Hour trilogy and Money Talks) is in action comedy and that's the same here, Johnson with the action and McShane with the comedy. Ratner's perv' sensibility cannot resist to crowbar Irina Shayk's Megara flashing her naked butt or Rebecca Ferguson's Ergenia buxom bosom filling the frame during her every conversation. It creates an imbalance between serious reinvention and extraordinary camp. When you add Joseph Fiennes' King Eurystheus, who's introduced nursing a bird, sporting blond ringlets and wearing an expression that looks like he's experiencing the relief of an epic bowel evacuation; one can't help but chuckle.
Johnson nails the role. He gives a commitment that elevates everything he touches. Horses are flipped, carts are kicked into opposing foes, men are punched into oblivion; all pre-requisite boxes are ticked.
McShane's Amphiaraus clairvoyant is so wonderfully aloof and uncertain despite his visions. He brings gravelly experience and weirdness to the group and can't help but mesmerise. Rufus Sewell's Autolycus is essentially on deck to play the sarcastic and greedy mercenary. Ingrid Bolsø Berdal's Atalanta is what would happen if Wonder Woman and Legolas had a baby girl. Hurt's Lord Cotys doesn't seem right from the outset. Peter Mullan is the go-to British actor for gruff henchman, and he wears Sitacles like a well worn glove. Aksel Hennie's mute Tydeus is a fascinating (if slightly out of place) character. He's an orphan rescued by Hercules and now is a tasmanian devil that fights by his side. He's a dark melancholic character that's only echoed in the visions that haunt Hercules.
Ratner and writers Condal and Spiliotopoulos wanted to have their Herculean cake, with all divergent ingredients of the character, and it's a mud pie. Johnson as Hercules couldn't be better. Like Jason Momoa and Conan the Barbarian before him the rest of the film is dwarfed by his effort.
Blake Howard - follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.
Directed by: Brett Ratner Written by: Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos (based on Radical comic "Hercules" written by Steve Moore) Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Santelmann, Peter Mullan , Rebecca Ferguson, Isaac Andrews, Joe Anderson, Irina Shayk
Dwayne Johnson ... Hercules Ian McShane ... Amphiaraus John Hurt ... Lord Cotys Rufus Sewell ... Autolycus Aksel Hennie ... Tydeus Ingrid Bolsø Berdal ... Atalanta Reece Ritchie ... Iolaus Joseph Fiennes ... King Eurystheus Tobias Santelmann ... Rhesus Peter Mullan ... Sitacles Rebecca Ferguson ... Ergenia Isaac Andrews ... Arius Joe Anderson ... Phineas Irina Shayk ... Megara