Director Brett Ratner (‘X-Men: The Last Stand,’ ‘Rush Hour 3’) brings Hercules back to the big screen starring former WWF/WWE and Disney superstar Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. 'Hercules' (formerly titled 'Hercules: The Thracian Wars') is the second movie on ‘the son of Zeus’ released this year, following director Renny Harlin’s critically panned box office bomb ‘The Legend of Hercules.’ Poor Renny, after making a name for himself with such blockbusters as ‘Die Hard 2’ and ‘Cliffhanger,’ the Finnish director hasn’t been quite the same since the critical and commercial flop that was ‘Cutthroat Island,’ a pre-Pirates of the Caribbean swashbuckler starring his ex-wife Geena Davis nearly 20 years ago.
Fortunately I haven’t seen Harlin’s version, so I will not be comparing/contrasting the two Hercules treatments. Brett Ratner’s approach de-mystified the man/demi-god behind the legend and depicted him as a mere mortal and laid-back leader of a not-so-merry band of mercenaries who fight for money, as that is what mercs reputedly do. This isn’t to say that these men and woman are without honor or conscience, of course, as it becomes clear in the movie’s final act. Despite the detractors who thought him ill-suited for the role, I thought Dwayne Johnson did just fine, as did his supporting cast including Ian McShane as the fatalistic seer Amphiaraus, Rufus Sewell as the pragmatic Spartan Autolychus, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as the tough but beautiful Amazonian archer Atalanta, and Aksel Hennie as the quiet-but-deadly Tydeus of Thebes. Adventure, intrigue and betrayal follow our mercenaries when they took on a job from King Cotys (John Hurt) of Thrace to check the ravages and depredations of an army of ‘centaurs’ led by the ruthless Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann).
The visual style of ‘Hercules’ is more ‘The Lord of the Rings’ than ‘300,’ which is welcome since I’m growing somewhat weary of the latter. The movie’s plot and setting may be a bit familiar and predictable (that is to say, ‘formulaic’), but ‘Hercules’ delivered what fans expected in the historical fantasy genre, and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself in our era of lowered expectations from Hollywood.