Seeing as Renny Harlin’s “The Legend of Hercules’’ flopped at the box office early this year, hopes weren’t high for Dwayne Johnson’s take on the son of Zeus. However, director Brett Ratner’s “Hercules’’ turned out to be a surprisingly fun and action-packed flick that paints the Greek hero in a more human light. By focusing on the man rather than the myth, the film stands out in a summer of Hollywood duds.
“Hercules’’ opens with a CGI-filled montage you’d expect to see in any of the recent, generic-looking action flicks based on Greco-Roman history. The over-the-top sequence, narrated by the hero’s nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who is recounting the demi-god’s “famed’’ 12 labors, doesn’t get much screentime.
A disbelieving voice interrupts his telling of the tales – and rightly so — which turn out to be a bunch of bull. The facade was created by Hercules and his group of mercenaries to instill fear in anyone who’d dare challenge them.
The film’s reality-versus-fiction take on the story of the son of Zeus is based on Steve Moore’s Radical Comics series “Hercules: The Thracian Wars.’’ Some of the more scandalous bits of the comic book are sanded down by writers Ryan Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos, but what’s left is a well-crafted and witty big screen adventure.
The action kicks up a notch when Hercules and his merry band of killers are enlisted by Ergenia (Rebecca Reguson) to help her father Lord Cotys (John Hurt) defend their home of Thrace. The group, looking to score a pretty payday, fights with and helps train Cotys’ men in order to defeat Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann) and his army of “centaurs.’’
But like the legends of the alleged deity, not everything is as it seems.
The three major battles in “Hercules’’ are well-paced and visually stunning, as Ratner’s epic actually lends itself well to the IMAX 3D treatment. After a dismal turn helming 2006’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,’’ it’s good to know that the director has finally honed his skills when it comes to making a big budget blockbuster.
Staying true to his comedy roots, Ratner does inject quite a bit of humor into “Hercules,’’ which meshes the action with fun without becoming too campy. Think Kevin Sorbo’s “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys’’ mixed with “The Expendables.’’
While the mercenaries, including Ian McShane’s portrayal of the aged seer Amphiaraus, are fine supporting characters, it’s Johnson’s humanized Hercules that makes the film work. In many ways, the career of the WWE star-turned-action hero is paralled in this story of the Greek demi-god. Like Johnson who earned the adoration of fans in the ring (albeit in the scripted world of pro-wrestling), this version of Hercules also attains glory through smoke and mirrors.
Like the character, the man has gone on to live up to the hype. Johnson has solidified himself as a bonafide movie star and turns in another solid performance in “Hercules.’’
Clocking in at 98 minutes, Ratner’s reimagining of the son of Zeus is just the right length for a fun and witty summer action flick.