Hercules (2014)

“No matter how far you go, man cannot escape his fate.  Who are you?  Are you a murderer?  Are you a mercenary who turns his back on the innocent?  We believe in you!  We have faith in you!  Remember the deeds you have performed, the labors you have overcome!  Are you only the legend, or are you the truth behind the legend?  Now, tell me, who are you?” asks Amphiaraus.  A chained Hercules exclaims, “I am Hercules!”

I’ve always thought of Brett Ratner as a lucky s.o.b., having gotten to where he is in the film industry.  Although he’s made some pretty terrible films (Money Talks, The Family Man, Rush Hour 2, After the Sunset, and Rush Hour 3), he’s also made some pretty good ones.  The first Rush Hour may still be the best film he’s directed.  Red Dragon was a worthy prequel to Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (although Michael Mann’s Manhunter is still the better adaptation of Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon).  X-Men: The Last Stand was a divisive film for X-Men fans, but I liked it a lot.  Tower Heist was surprisingly good, especially since Eddie Murphy was in it.  This brings us to Hercules, which is actually based on the graphic novel Hercules: The Thracian Wars by Steve Moore.  I admit that my expectations were low even though Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) was starring as the title character.  I was very surprised when the reviews for Hercules were turning out positive, so I decided to catch a 3D showing of the film.  I’m happy to report that Brett Ratner’s newest film is actually good, and will easily surpass anyone’s low expectations for it.

2014’s Hercules revolves around the nomadic warrior Hercules, who is haunted by the circumstances of the death of his wife and children, and his group of mercenary friends as they are hired to train the Thracian army by Lord Cotys so that they can defend their kingdom from a bloodthirsty warlord.  I was surprised that, like Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy, the Greek gods are always mentioned but never seen or heard, grounding the story more in reality (which the graphic novel probably did as well).  The more fantastical elements are seen mostly when being told in the form of stories such as the 12 labors of Hercules (being told by Hercules’ nephew Iolaus).  The film shows how people back in the ancient times might’ve been manipulated into believing that such fantastical creatures (such as the hydra, centaurs, giant boars, etc.) might’ve actually existed and how legends were perpetuated.  The screenplay by Ryan J. Condal and Evan Spiliotopoulos does a good job in adapting Moore’s graphic novel, providing a good amount of humor and excellent action sequences, not to mention an interesting redemption story for the son of Zeus.

A fine cast was assembled for the film: Dwayne Johnson (as Hercules), Ian McShane (as Amphiaraus), John Hurt (as Lord Cotys), Rufus Sewell (as Autolycus), Ingrid Bolsø Berdal (as Atalanta), Aksel Hennie (as Tydeus), Reece Ritchie (as Iolaus), Rebecca Ferguson (as Ergenia), Peter Mullan (as Sitacles), Irina Shayk (as Megara, Hercules’ wife), and Joseph Fiennes (as King Eurystheus).  Dante’s Spinotti’s cinematography is first-rate as always (I loved his use of shadows in this film).  Jean-Vincent Puzos’ production design was well done, as were Jany Temime’s costume designs and Paul Engelen’s makeup designs.  Fernando Velazquez provides a rousing score with a memorable theme for Hercules.  Brett Ratner’s direction is actually solid (if only he worked with good material more often).  Overall, Hercules is a surprisingly solid summer movie that’s fun and entertaining (and is a million times better than that crappy Renny Harlin-directed Hercules movie that came out at the beginning of the year).

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